I have had a run lately on parents whose baby won’t sleep without the dummy or who won’t go back to sleep when they wake overnight unless they have the dummy. A lot of parents need help with gentle, effective techniques for dummy weaning.
The dummy (or pacifier) can be a great tool when a baby is really young – say from about 2 weeks. It is great to help a baby settle well after a feed and to go back to sleep if they are a catnapper during the day.
Babies who struggle with reflux or tummy issues can also find the dummy vey soothing as sucking settles the reflux and reduces the discomfort.
When a baby is young they use the dummy to calm themselves down enough to be able to go off to sleep. Then once they are really asleep they spit the dummy out and continue to sleep on.
However around four or five months of age this all changes and the baby becomes dependent on the dummy and the sucking to help them stay asleep as they transition between sleep cycles. The sucking is now a very strong sleep prop. If they come out of a cycle and the dummy is not in their mouth they will cry as they now feel they need the dummy, and really the sucking, to go back to sleep.
Mark was nine months and waking up to eight times a night. His exhausted parents were getting up to put the dummy back in his mouth at most of these wake times but once a night they were feeding him but he was never really interested in the milk only taking enough to just get himself back to sleep.
The day sleeps were not so good either with Mark really only sleeping 45 minutes at each sleep. Mark’s parents were anxious about making any changes and removing something they had all really become quite dependent upon, however everyone was so very sleep deprived they were willing to try anything!
When I put Mark down at 7pm he was confused as he didn’t get his dummy and so he expressed this frustration by crying. I stayed with him the whole time soothing him and patting him. Surprisingly it only took about 20 minutes to get him off to sleep – the first time he had ever gone to sleep without the dummy! Hooray – a big win!
He then slept for longer than he had ever slept before without waking – four hours! After this long sleep he had plenty of energy and so getting him back to sleep this time took a bit longer.
He really wanted that dummy and made sucking noises with his lips like he was trying to suck something, anything! Every now and then he would calm and almost be asleep, at this time he would look for something to suck and realise there was no dummy. He wasn’t happy about that so he started to cry again.
It took some doing but after about 90 minutes Mark finally and calmly went back to sleep. He then slept till about 4am, it took 10 minutes to settle and then was up for the day at 6.45am. His mum told me when I got back there the following night that his day sleeps had been great and he had slept longer than one sleep cycle for each sleep. Although it had taken a bit longer for him to go off to sleep initially, once he was asleep, he slept soundly.
The second night was much better, he woke a couple more times than the first night but settled each time in less than 10 minutes.
The third night he slept through!
His parents couldn’t believe how quickly he got over the dummy and the night feeding. He hasn’t looked back and has slept well, both day and night since.
Mark’s story is a very common one. Some babies don’t have any problems with using the dummy at night, they sleep with it in their mouth or not. But others really struggle. I say to parents that if you are getting up more than once or twice to put that dummy back in, then it is a problem!
Whenever we remove dummies from babies we always give them another type of comforter to use for sleep. Something like a muslin square, a soft, flat toy, a small blanket – anything that they can snuggle up to and suck the corner of if they need.