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Like many parents you probably decided before your baby was born, that they would NEVER have a dummy or suck on their thumb! Unfortunately babies have a mind of their very own! When you’re in those desperate sleepless stages where baby won’t settle for love nor money, then you need a quick solution. The dummy can feel like a magic wand. the problem becomes so ‘how to get rid of the dummy?’.
Why the dummy?
Let’s face it – the dummy can be a real lifesaver in the early days with a young baby. With my kids the dummy or pacifier as they call it in the United States, was a godsend! Both my kids suffered from reflux. The sucking action helps to stimulate the production of saliva which neutralises the acid from reflux. Sucking can also help improve Eustacian Tube pressure. My kids also had middle ear issues so this was helpful in relieving pain caused by the pressure.
Reasons for sucking
There are some very valid reasons for using a dummy. For example, settling baby without feeding (over feeding can cause bloating in your baby’s tummy and pain in the mother’s nipples if the baby is using these as a sucking or sleep aid). For my kids sucking on a dummy helped their reflux and the pressure in their middle ears. Babies instinctively like to suck, so the dummy can help soothe a baby in times of distress more quickly than just a cuddle alone. There has also been research to suggest that using a dummy helps to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
This blog is intended to help you establish good habits for your baby’s sleep routine. The aim is to help you to do away with any “sleep associations” such as a dummies that may now be inhibiting your baby’s sleep instead of helping it. Instead you can try to instill positive sleep associations that will have long lasting effects on your baby or your sleep!
The reality is that eventually the dummy will have to go! When is the right time? What’s the strategy? Cold turkey or gentle weaning?
When to get rid of the dummy?
There is lots of advice out there about when is a good time to try to get rid of the dummy. Some say 4 months before your baby becomes accustomed to the dummy. Others say before your baby turns 6 months old because this is about the time that your baby becomes more settled. They also become more aware of their surroundings and therefore it’s a good time to break with any habits you don’t wish to continue.
The magic number
Around 6 months of age your baby should start to settle more easily and not fuss as much as they may have in the earlier months. They should also gradually be sleeping better at night and will not need the dummy as often to help them nod off. This may work for some babies but not for others who have pain or discomfort and therefore like to suck like both my kids did.
If you do have a particularly unsettled baby, then you may want to consider keeping the dummy a little longer. Please bear in mind that the longer you use it, the harder it may be to break the habit later on.
What to do with a Toddler?
As your baby becomes a toddler, it’s a good idea only to let him have the dummy for sleep time. It’s not a good look walking around with the dummy in your mouth all day long. Also there’s research to suggest that a dummy in the mouth all day limits your toddlers ability to speak and may affect speech in the longer term. This is because a baby learns sounds by copying parents and experimenting with babbling and the sound of their own voice. If the dummy is “comforting” them all day, then there are less opportunities for them to practice their language. Also the more time a child has their finger or a dummy in their mouth, the more chance that they could have problems with their teeth down the track.
Methods for getting rid of the dummy
Many Sleep Consultants suggest that when a dummy is used in a sleep routine, it is highly likely that the baby might be a poor sleeper. So when you’ve established that it’s time to get rid of the dummy, how should you tackle it? The two most common methods you could try to get rid of the dummy are cold turkey or weaning!
This is where you just decide that you’re going to cut out the dummy on a particular day. This is what I did with both my kids, on their first birthday night after much excitement and attention the dummy was simply not given for their night sleep. I must admit I had a BIG win here with both of them – the dummy was gone and never asked for again! By this stage their reflux had settled down, they were well and truly mobile so bedtime meant sleep! They both also had grommets inserted so eustachian tube pressure wasn’t an issue any longer. To be honest, once my kids health issues were resolved, they never really called out for the dummy. If it fell out in the middle of the night, they preferred sucking on their hands to self soothe, even through their swaddle before they could roll!
Like any sleep association removal, a good time to go “cold turkey” is on a weekend when your partner or support person might be around to help you. You may have less on your plate, feel more relaxed and be able to cope with what could possibly be a few difficult days. Let’s face it – you need to prepare yourself that it could be hard so you need to be up for the challenge and have the support around. Some babies may cope without the dummy. Most babies will not and therefore will need extra soothing and attention to get through this period.
Choose your timing carefully
You will need to try to catch your baby at the first sign of tiredness. You must work on getting them into bed before they are overtired. Working with an overtired baby and no dummy is a guaranteed challenge that you really don’t want to be taking on! Be sure to give your baby any extra cuddling or soothing techniques such as patting and shushing to help your baby settle. Also try to place baby in the cot drowsy but not asleep. Settling may take longer during the dummy removal phase but stick with it and stay calm. It is a only a phase and you can get through it.
If going “cold turkey” is not your style or your baby is just not coping then you may find it easier to wean baby off the dummy. It will take more time to do, but you can gradually phase it out over a period of time. You could try some of the following techniques:
1. Use the dummy in limited situations such as only in the cot or the car. Try to gradually cut down the number of opportunities the baby has access to the dummy.
2. Cut the tip off the end of the dummy so that it doesn’t have the same effect or sensation.
3. Don’t buy new dummies so the old one will just get flatter and less appealing to suck on.
4. Only let your child have the dummy when they are able to put it in for themselves. Good luck with this.
5. Substitute with a comfort toy they can mouth on. Baby Harper below likes our Joey Toy comforter.
Expect some protest – especially from an older child. At least with an older child you can explain things to them more easily. Try phrases like “you’re getting older now” or turn it into a little story. Maybe the ‘dummy fairy” is going to come and take the dummies away at a certain time and make it a special occasion that they look forward to. One Mum explained how her young son saw the only remaining dummy fall out of the cot. They looked everywhere for it and couldn’t find it anywhere. Since her son had helped look, he understood “no more dummy”. The dummy was eventually found wedged between the wall and one of the cot legs but by this stage the dummy was well and truly forgotten!
The importance of routine
If you’re using the weaning technique this may be the perfect opportunity to implement a bedtime routine if you have not done so already. You will be teaching your child how to cope without the dummy so you will need to reinforce some other positive sleep associations to replace it. Babies and children don’t understand the concept of time so their world is measured by the order of events. It’s never too early to introduce your baby to a bedtime routine or ritual. I’m a firm believer that babies feel comforted in learning what comes next.
Step by Step
We recommend to start your night time routine with a warm bath, then pop baby in their baby sleeping bag or baby swaddle, then quiet time or read a book and then into bed. It’s like a “countdown” for your baby so they know what to expect after each step. It also means that your baby will learn the routine regardless of whether Mum, Dad, grandparents or a nanny/babysitter put them to bed.
Even for daytime naps you can follow the routine (minus the bath). Your baby will begin to recognise that it’s time to wind down and get ready for a nap. Even if your baby is very little, it will set up their sleep routine. This becomes important as they grow older and you want them to start to learn the difference between day and night. You can read more about routines in our blog here.
Thumb sucking is not a bad outcome if you have taken the dummy away. It is reassuring that the baby can learn to self soothe so encourage them to do it. There are sensory feelings when baby sucks their thumb. One benefit of being able to suck their own thumb is that your baby won’t necessarily call out in the middle of the night for you to replace the dummy that has fallen out or accidentally been thrown out of the cot. Also as baby grows, it is nice to know that your baby can comfort themselves in times of need. For example when sleeping at daycare or falling asleep in the car on a long drive. Your baby will be able to self soothe without being reliant on special assistance from an adult.
Real life example
My friend’s baby actually came into the world sucking his thumb. The midwives at the hospital suggested that it might be a good idea to introduce the dummy in an effort to curb the thumb sucking early on. The midwife thought the dummy would give the parent more control over when to use it and when to take it away. That was fine but it didn’t replace the thumb sucking as was intended. The baby did have a dummy but still went on to suck his thumb until he was 3 years old. Eventually the thumb sucking was curtailed in 2 nights by using fingernail biting paint. The moral of this story is don’t expect a dummy to stop your child sucking their thumb. If they’re going to suck, they’re going to suck, so best to do away with any “props” early in the piece so it’s one less thing to worry about.
Another friend introduced the dummy later when the child was a toddler to curtail thumb sucking. In this mother’s mind using a dummy was preferred to thumb sucking.
Later you may have to try a new removal strategy for the thumb sucking. Don’t worry – most kids wean themselves off thumb sucking but I have known children to suck their thumbs well into primary school.
Get to it
It seems ditching the dummy by 6 months is ideal, but if that’s not going to work for you, then try to phase it out by 12 months. After that and you’ll really have your work cut out for you…
It might seem daunting to make big changes once you’ve got into a routine. Ditching the dummy may seem hard and harsh on your child, but in the end it will be worthwhile. It’s work has been done and it’s time to move on… onwards and upwards as your baby grows!