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A dummy is often given to a baby or toddler to suck on so they feel comforted and stop crying. Dummies are normally made of rubber or silicone and their use can be a controversial topic among health professionals and parents and carers.

Dummies can help babies to settle down and sleep. Some studies show that dummies can establish a good sucking pattern in babies, especially those who are premature. However, there a number of disadvantages, most of which impact on a child’s speech and language development. Dummies can also cause middle ear infections and dental problems.

Dummies decline in effectiveness after the baby is about 6 months old. It’s recommended that you:

  • Don’t use a dummy when your child is over 18 months old
  • Don’t give your child a dummy during the day or when they could be interacting with other children
  • Don’t use a dummy beyond times when your child needs to be comforted
  • Don’t use a dummy when your child could be babbling or talking
  • Excess dribbling from your child when they’re without their dummy
  • Your child doesn’t attempt to babble and try out sounds themselves (as they’re less likely to copy those around them when they have a dummy in their mouth)
  • Poor speech sounds; you may have difficulty understanding what your child says
  • Your child doesn’t use as many words for their age
  • Stomach and mouth infections
  • Middle ear infections due to the sucking opening the eustachian tube (which links the nose and middle ear) and allowing bacteria from the nose into the middle ear
  • Dental problems such as open bite and cross bite
  • Overdevelopment of the muscles at the front of the mouth compared to those at the back, which may lead to a persistent thrusting of the tongue and further misplacement of the teeth

Gradually reducing use of the dummy

  • Ease off gradually. Start by removing for a short period of time, then longer, then all day
  • Discourage your child from talking with their dummy in their mouth by saying you can’t hear what they’re saying
  • Read books such as “want my dummy” by Tony Ross or “The Last Noonoo” by Jill Murphy
  • Suggest that dummies are for bed and leave it there when your child gets up; or put it in a drawer as out of sight is often out of mind
  • Only have one dummy in use. If they’re too readily available you’ll find it hard to discourage your child

Completely removing the dummy

  • Find ways to lose the dummy and leave a small present in its place e.g. ‘fairies’ to magic the dummy away 
  • Cut or puncture the teat so that it’s broken and needs to go in the bin
  • Pretend to have lost it, or leave it behind when you go out
  • Ask a friend or a person in authority, such as a health visitor, to suggest to your child that they don’t need it anymore

If after three months of getting rid of the dummy, you don’t notice an improvement in your child’s speech and language skills, contact our CYPIT Team.

For more information, watch this NHS video: When should we ditch the dummy?