By Dr Robert Arlt, Consultant Paediatrician
Published in Baby Surrey, September 2015
Babies do cry, they have to as for them it is a means of communication. They have to keep us informed of their real, or felt, needs. An hour of crying a day is average in a healthy baby, which means that a couple of hours can still be quite normal. Depending on how stressed parents are, they may perceive this amount of crying very differently. That is where the dummy, also very suggestively called a pacifier, often comes in.
Dummies have a naturally soothing effect and can be very helpful with infant colic and teething. Many babies love to suck for comfort and the rhythmic and natural sucking process can help to induce sleep too. Thumb sucking could be seen as an alternative but it’s much easier to get rid of a dummy.
An argument in favour of dummies is that it may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The Department of Health advise giving your baby a dummy at the start of any period of sleep may reduce the risk.
On the other hand there are possible drawbacks, if your baby can only get to sleep using a dummy, it could easily fall from their mouth when they fall asleep. You will then have to replace the dummy after every sleep cycle, which may sometimes last as little as half an hour. If a dummy is introduced too early, there is the risk of nipple confusion for a baby who is just learning to suckle. Dentists warn of possible orthodontic problems with frequent use of dummies, although this may happen with frequent thumb sucking as well.
Recent psychologists studies suggest that heavy use of dummies robs the chance to learn facial mimicry during infancy. This can lead to poor levels of emotional maturity, curiously, especially among baby boys. Apparently, disrupting the child’s use of facial mimicry impairs the ability to identify the emotions behind expressions on other faces.
So, if you choose to introduce a dummy it’s important to bear in mind:
If a baby is being breastfed wait until breastfeeding is well established, usually at about one month old
Do not use it for long periods and remember it is mainly useful before sleep
Try to wean your child off by one years old.
At +richmondpractice in London our consultant paediatrician can assist you with practical advice on giving your baby a dummy. Consultant paediatricians at +richmond practice in London undertake private developmental checks modelled on the German child health surveillance programme.