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Soothing a new baby can be a real challenge and if you are confronted with an unsettled little one, you will be looking for any tool to help you calm your baby. One of the tools available to us is a dummy or pacifier and although there is a heated debates on the merits of having or not having a dummy, for many parents it becomes a sanity saver.
The reason that many of us swear by dummies (pacifier, binkies and soothers) is that many babies simply sooth best when sucking. This is true from a physiological perspective. Your baby’s mouth has more touch receptors than any other part of the body in the early days. For this reason, even in utero, babies derive great pleasure from sucking. In the womb, your baby may have sucked his hand, umbilical cord or simply sucked and swallowed the amniotic fluid.
Once born, almost all babies love to suck and use their mouths to settle. There are really only three options you can offer your baby to suck on
- Their hand or thumb;
- Your nipple or a bottle;
- Simply a dummy (pacifier).
Although some parents have the preconceived idea before birth that their baby will not have a dummy, suck their thumb or be fed to sooth, they usually find themselves caught short and urgently looking for a solution to help their fussy little one settle.
In the early days many babies are unsettled and colicky. Some babies have reflux and/or mild lactose intolerance. All these babies really do benefit from non- nutritive sucking – e.g. sucking a dummy. This non-nutritive sucking is invaluable in those long niggly hours. Even older babies and toddlers may need to suck when tired and irritable. The big question is at what age and how can you ditch the dummy?
There are two ages when you can relatively easily get rid of the dummy:
- If you have a settled little one who is not too irritable and is a good sleeper, you can get rid of the dummy at or before 6 months of age. At this time, you are certainly through the worst of the unsettledness and a dummy may not be necessary any more.
- For other slightly more needy little ones, a dummy is useful well into the toddler years. There is nothing wrong with this choice but toddler with a dummy does need to be managed slightly differently to younger babies.
Getting rid of a dummy at or before 6 months
At around 3 to 4 months of age, even the fussiest babies begin to settle significantly. If your baby is settled, only fusses briefly when hungry and is a good sleeper, this is a good time to ‘ditch the dummy’. It is also an easy age to get rid of any habits, as they really are not very firmly entrenched.
To get rid of a dummy at this age, stop offering it at all during awake times and only offer the dummy just as your baby falls asleep for four days. Once he is a sleep, take the dummy from his mouth and do not offer it again at all at night. If your baby wakes and is unsettled at night and more than 5 hours have passed since a feed, feed him – don’t dummy him.
During this time, encourage a different sleeper soother – such as a teddy or Taglet blanky. This will become your baby’s tool to fall asleep.
Once this is set up, it is time to go cold turkey and loose the dummy altogether. You may find a few days of unsettled behaviour at sleep time but continue to encourage the ‘doodoo’ blanky or teddy as the tool to fall asleep.
Managing and getting rid of a dummy in the toddler years
There is nothing wrong with a toddler sucking a dummy, as long as it is done around sleep time and your toddler does not walk around with his dummy in his mouth all day. The main reason for this is that walking around with a dummy in his mouth all day is just not a pretty sight. In addition, some people do feel that dummies can affect speech and the pronunciation of some sounds. The fact is that most toddlers remove their dummies when speaking and so it should not hold them back but nonetheless, if your toddler is still using a dummy, I encourage you to only let him use it at bedtime.
To ditch the dummy in the toddler years, follow these three steps:
- Only let him use the dummy in or around his bed. Even if he is really miserable, your toddler should have to go to his room if he needs a ‘quick suck’. Connect the dummy to his pillow with a dummy clip and create a boundary of dummy in bed only.
- Once he has accepted this and you have decided it is time to ditch the dummy, tell your toddler a story about his dummies – a story that revolves around something that simply needs the dummy more than he does. A great idea is to take him to a zoo and show him a tiny baby animal. Preferably an animal that makes a noise (we used a hyena). Tell your toddler that the animal’s baby really needs a dummy. Over the course of the next few days broach the idea that ‘it is time to give your dummies to the baby animal’. The offer a reward. Yip – good ol’ bribery!
- On the set date, take your toddler to the zoo or where ever it is and offer up the dummies. That night a reward – preferably of a soft toy animal similar to the animal he gave his dummies to will complete the story. Thereafter, a few nights of unsettledness may ensue. Use loads of love and a bit of water in a bottle to suck on if he is distressed.
While ditching the dummy is not the easiest part of being a parent, neither is it rocket science. Hang in there and stick with calm, caring consistency for a few days.
By Meg Faure