5 things that happen when you give a dummy to an unsettled baby (and 5 things that don’t)

Dummies and Unsettled Babies

It is estimated that over sixty per cent of three month old babies have some attachment to dummies or pacifiers. At six months, the estimate is more like 40% and this proportion drops as babies age. By the time babies are two years old, there are only a fraction who still use the dummy.

I do encourage the use of dummies in some unsettled babies much to the horror of some health professionals I’m sure! But I have found that if you have a baby that is particularly “sucky”; that is they really like to suck to put themselves to sleep or to calm themselves, then introducing a dummy can save you from having a baby attached to you all day and can help a baby like this go off to sleep without too much fuss and also go back to sleep if they wake before they are meant to.

So what are the facts about dummies?

  1. Dummies do calm babies down. In a study as far back as the mid-seventies, babies who were playing away from their mothers were able to play more and be away from their mothers for longer than babies without dummies. And babies who sucked dummies during a painful medical procedure seem to experience less pain but only when they sucked at least 30 sucks per minute.
  1. The soothing properties of dummies only last as long as the babies are actually sucking. When babies stop sucking, they seem to cry as much as babies without dummies do.
  1. Most infants (more than 60%) lose their dummy within 30 minutes of falling asleep and if they can’t settle without one, this can become a problem. If you use a dummy regularly for some months, a baby does tend to become addicted to the sucking off to sleep. They actually need it to go to sleep and stay asleep.
  1. Premature babies who use a dummy may spend a shorter time in hospital and one study showed they tended to be less fussy about eating.
  1. Babies who use dummies have slightly more ear infections but it is not known whether it’s the dummy use that causes the ear infections; it could be that babies who have more ear infections particularly like using a dummy because it soothes them.

The evidence about SIDS and dummy use is inconclusive. Some studies suggest dummies lower the incidence of SIDS but at present, SIDS and Kids do not make a recommendation about dummy use.

So what don’t dummies do?

  1. For mothers who are motivated to breastfeed, using a dummy before or after breastfeeding was established did not significantly affect the duration of breastfeeding up to four months of age.
  1. There are conflicting studies, but provided a dummy is used for less than three years, it doesn’t appear to lead to long-term dental problems.
  1. Dummy use also doesn’t seem to delay speech development.
  1. Babies who use dummies don’t sleep deeper than babies without them; in fact, they seem to wake more easily as a result of noises.
  1. Dummies aren’t the holy grail of putting babies to sleep. Some babies just won’t take them and there’s nothing wrong with your baby if they don’t like a dummy.

I’m not against dummies – far from it but the problem comes when the baby needs it to go to sleep and stay asleep. My advice is that if you don’t have to use one then don’t, but if you do use a dummy with an unsettled baby, try to get rid of it by the time your baby is around four months old. By this time they will not be too addicted to it and you should be able to get rid of it without too much fuss.

Regardless of when you introduce or try to get rid of the dummy, you are not hurting your child with one. You’re ok if you choose a dummy and so’s your baby. And when you need to get rid of it, it can be done and your baby will adjust – it might not be easy but after all, there aren’t too many 12 year olds who use dummies 😉

All the best


You might want to share this blog with other parents. It may help them feel better about their decisions and feel less judged by others.

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Image credit for featured image: Petras Gagilas

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