As a paediatirican I get a lot of questions about dummies and pacifiers. Most parents expect me to be wildly against them, but the fact is for some babies they can really help with sleep and settling. I encourage parents to arm themselves with all the information before they start to use one.
Dummies often get a really bad rap – associated with:
- nipple confusion
- mum shaming and
- dental bills
And while dummies have a few cons, used appropriately there are also a lot of pros and if you have a baby that sucks on anything, a dummy is a far better option than their thumb or your boob (if they’re not actually hungry!).
Babies have an innate sucking reflex
Sucking is survival reflex present even before birth. In fact, if you had an ultrasound during pregnancy, you may have seen your baby sucking their thumb.
Rooting, sucking, and bringing his hand to his mouth are considered feeding cues in the first weeks after birth. Later on, after breastfeeding is well established, your baby will start to use these movements to console themselves…This is where a pacifier or dummy comes in handy!
When a baby is full and uncomfortable from excess wind, they might give the impression of being hungry – and root for a breast or bottle – then instantly start sucking when they find it.
This is what leads to parents and caregivers thinking ‘they must have just been hungry’ – cue the grandparents with an ‘I told you so’ comment – but this is absolutely wrong!
They’ll suck on a bottle, on your finger, on a pacifier, they’ll even suck on their fingers or their own tongue! It does not mean they want more milk necessarily – it is a reflex they can’t turn off.
If you know they’ve had a full feed but are fussy it’s the perfect time to use a pacifier to help them relax and calm down before sleep.
Dummies can be an amazing tool to help soothe a fussy baby and avoid comfort feeding.
Nipple confusion and Breastmilk Supply
It’s a long held belief that dummies cause nipple confusion and can interfere with milk supply.
In my book ‘Your Baby Doesn’t Come with a Book’ and my Preparation for Newborns online program I recommend limited use of dummies in the first 4 weeks of life to ensure breast milk supply is established but there’s no evidence to suggest if introduced and used correctly dummies have any impact on either nipple confusion or breast milk supply for breastfed babies.
Dummies and dental bills
Dental problems from excessive sucking of thumbs or dummies can include:
- Excessive overbite
- Buck teeth
- Posterior crossbite
The evidence we have suggests this damage to your baby’s mouth and teeth doesn’t happen until 2-4 years of age so as a general rule I recommend your remove the dummy (& thumb sucking where possible) beyond the age of 2 to minimise dental problems.
This isn’t meant to be alarmist though – there are plenty of perfectly healthy and happy kids who had a dummy and sucked their thumb a bit but if it’s excessive you need to aware of the possible impact and the possible orthodontic bills you may face down the track.
Thumb sucking Vs dummies
The main reason a dummy is preferable over thumb sucking is that: a dummy can be taken away to stop the habit.
Thumb sucking can be much harder to prevent once the habit is ingrained.
Thumb sucking is also less preferable as it can cause:
- sore thumbs
- calluses on the thumb
We’ve talked a lot about the pros/cons of dummies but many parents for good reason will find a dummy preferable to a thumb.
Ditching the dummy
Most children naturally lose interest in their pacifier as they grow older, but it’s wise for parents to guide this process to prevent it from becoming a hard-to-break habit.
Babies can’t learn to find and replace their pacifier until around 7 months old, so that can mean a lot of broken sleep waiting for your baby to learn this skill.
If your baby is under 4-5 months old I recommend ditching it – if it is impacting negatively on their sleep.
If your baby is approaching 2 and still using a dummy there’s a full guide to ditching the dummy in my sleep programs and in the Toddler Toolkit.
When should you give a newborn a pacifier?
If your newborn seems fussy, cranky, tired, or restless, it’s ok to give them a pacifier. If they have just had a big feed and you’re trying to calm them to burp (see all my tips & my active burping technique the sleep program).
For babies who need a little extra help winding down, a pacifier can be the key to a peaceful transition – they do on many occasions help babies fall asleep quickly.
You don’t have to remove your baby’s pacifier after they fall asleep. If the pacifier falls out while they are sleeping – which is quite common! – there is no need for you to reinsert it.
One of the problems is some babies can’t resettle without it, so if they wake up after a sleep cycle you may find yourself having to go back to put it back in to get them back to sleep – this can be one of the biggest cons to using a dummy!
How to Sleep Train with a Pacifier
Using a pacifier for infant sleep training can be beneficial. For many babies, it becomes a comforting part of their sleep routine, helping them realise it’s time to wind down.
The Downside of Dummies
They can interfere with maintaining sleep and parents find themselves up countless times during the night replacing them. The other common problem I find is your baby wakes frequently catnapping because the pacifier falls out of their mouth. In these circumstances, I recommend ditching it – again, if you don’t mind popping it back in all the time go for it.
The biggest problem I have with dummies is if they are being used ALL the time (not just for winding down before bed) but frequently to sooth a highly fussy baby that something is being missed – core to my philosophy is learning to understand our babies better and look at what could be driving discomfort. I never want a dummy to be used to soothe a baby with a treatable condition – my blog on colic digs into this in detail.
Dummies & Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
When talking about pacifiers, it’s important to mention sleep related infant deaths.
Dummy (pacifier) use has been found to reduce sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) – the reason why is not well understood.
A safe infant sleeping environment is always a priority and just as we remove stuffed animals to avoid a suffocation risk never put a baby to bed with a dummy strap attached to them as it poses a choking risk.
It’s also key to replace dummies regularly and dispose of them immediately if there is any form of damage.
Never lick a dummy if it falls on the floor – there’s probably amore bacteria in your mouth than the ground! Wash dummies regularly and steralise them like you would a bottle teat.
Dummies have their place and I don’t have a militant view on their use
So – can a newborn baby sleep with a pacifier? The short answer is – Yes!
There are many potential advantages and pacifiers can be a valuable addition to your newborn’s sleep routine, offering comfort and soothing ritual as your baby falls asleep.
But go in with open eyes and know that they can impact babies’ sleep overall… and if you don’t have the energy to replace them when your baby is unsettled or wakes between sleep cycles, they may not be for you!