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Pros and cons of dummies: Everything you need to know about soothers

The topic of soothers can be a controversial one for parents, but if used correctly, they can offer comfort and sometimes, a little extra sleep. Here's our guide to the pros and cons of dummies, how to use one, and the best ones for your baby.

By Rebecca Roberts | Last updated Sep 22, 2023

MAM soothers

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Dummies can be described as the Marmite of parenting - you either love them or hate them. For many they bring comfort and relief, whereas others feel they’re a bad habit to be avoided.

If you feel comfortable that using a soother is the right thing for you and your baby, then that’s the correct decision to make. There’s an abundance of choice when it comes to choosing a dummy. Soothers, dummies, or pacifiers have been used by parents for centuries and, as their name suggests, parents use them to help calm and settle their children.

Silicone and latex dummies come in all shapes and sizes, and can be found in a variety of designs including animals, cartoon characters, and popular shapes.

Unlike soothers of old, modern soothers are safe to use, can easily be sterilised, and are often designed by orthodontists with oral development in mind.

If you’re new to the world of dummies, we’ve put together a guide to help you choose the best dummy for your baby, explore the pros and cons of using a dummy, and you’ll find helpful tips on how to wean your baby off the dummy when the time is right.

Should I use a dummy?

“Her dummy was the difference between sleep and no sleep…” Real life advice from Thinkpinkstink.

Whether to use a soother or not is often a hot topic on our Mumsnet forums, and several times we’ve seen expectant parents ask why do parents use dummies? Our guide explains.

When can I start using a baby soother?

If you decide it’s the right choice for your family, you’ll probably wonder when to give your baby the dummy. The Lullaby Trust recommends that you consider offering it once breastfeeding has been established, typically when they are around four weeks old.

As with anything you buy for your little one, there are pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide what’s best for your baby.

Pros of using a dummy

During a baby’s first crucial years, they often need to be sucking on something for comfort when they’re awake and not feeding. According to MAM, this is called ‘non-nutritive sucking’, and can also help your baby settle to sleep. Then as they grow, they’ll find other ways to soothe themselves.

The main advantages of using a dummy or pacifier include:

  • Increased protection against SIDS, according to the NHS, although more evidence is needed.

  • Your baby can satisfy their sucking instinct.

  • Using one can help calm babies and help them to fall asleep.

  • They can be used to soothe babies at other times, for instance, to help reduce pain during injections, hospital procedures or when the baby is teething.

  • Some parents claim dummies can help your baby burp and dislodge uncomfortable, trapped wind.

  • Dummies can help babies travelling on a flight, as sucking balances out their ear pressure and helps to reduce discomfort.

  • Soother sucking is far better for your baby vs thumb/finger sucking as soothers are less intrusive/damaging to your babies oral development, and can be sterilised unlike fingers/thumbs.

  • In terms of neonatal/low birth weight babies, evidence suggests that offering a soother for short periods of non-nutritive sucking can help babies to settle and calm themselves so they use less energy, which may help them to grow a little faster.

  • They can help speed up the maturity of a baby’s sucking reflex so that they move onto oral feeding more quickly.

Cons of using a dummy

The main disadvantages of using a dummy or pacifier include:

  • They can transport bacteria or fungus, which can increase the rate of tummy infections and middle ear infections

  • They might also affect how baby teeth grow

  • They might affect your child’s speech development

  • Using one may cause nipple and teat confusion in breastfed babies

Will using a dummy prevent SIDS?

According to the NCT, many studies have suggested that both soother use and breastfeeding are important factors for preventing cot death (aka SIDS).

It’s unclear how dummies protect against SIDS or whether they really do reduce the risk of SIDS at all and, as the NCT explains, experts do not specifically recommend using dummies to protect babies from SIDS.

Despite this, any association between soother use and reduced risk of SIDS could be down to a lot of other factors, such as:

  • Parents may check on their baby more frequently if their baby uses a soother

  • Dummies may prevent babies from rolling onto their front, and if they do, the soother provides a gap between baby and mattress.

  • Sucking on a soother helps to meek a baby’s tongue forward

  • A baby that uses a soother at night may be more still while sleeping, so less likely to become covered by blankets (although safe sleeping guidelines advise against using any loose blankets or material in your baby’s cot)

Do dummies affect speech development?

Experts suggest that prolonged use of a soother past the recommended age of one may affect a child’s ability to learn to talk. Using them in another way other than the recommended guidelines (offer for sleep only or at times when your baby particularly needs that extra comfort, don’t use during awake times etc) listed below isn’t recommended. Here’s why:

  • Using a soother reduces the amount of babbling, which is a vital stage in a child’s speech development

  • A child is much less likely to talk with something in their mouth

  • Toddlers learn words by listening and copying adults, which a soother can prevent

  • Many speech sounds are made at the front of the mouth (p, b, t, d, s) and regular soother users may struggle to develop these sounds

  • The more a child talks with a soother, the higher risk of needing speech therapy

The above should not deter you from choosing to use a soother should you decide it’s the right thing for you and your baby. After all, when used correctly and for the preferred amount of time, dummies can be useful.

Are dummies bad for my baby’s teeth?

They may be, if used for a length of time. The British Dental Association recommends that you try to wean your baby off their pacifier by the time they reach one year old. The longer your baby uses a soother, the more chance there is that the structure of the mouth will be affected. This in turn can affect how their teeth, and their permanent teeth, meet when they close their mouth or bites.

Using a soother for too long can increase the risk of your little one developing:

  • a crossbite, when the upper teeth are behind the lower teeth, rather than in front of them

  • an overbite, when the front teeth project over the bottom teeth

If choosing a dummy is the right thing to do for your family, it’s advisable to choose a soother with an orthodontic teat rather than larger cherry style teats, just like MAM dummies, which reduces the risk of future dental problems.

How to use a dummy or baby soother

If you have chosen to use a dummy, it’s advised that you gently withdraw it between the ages of 6 and 12 months to avoid possible issues associated with extended soother use. These include things like ear infections or misalignment of teeth.

Other things to keep in mind when using a pacifier include:

  • Offer the dummy routinely at the beginning of any nap or night-time sleep

  • Do not force your baby to take the soother if they don’t want it

  • If they spit it out during their sleep, there is no need to keep putting it back in

  • You shouldn’t dip your baby’s soother in anything sweet (like sugar or honey) to encourage them to take it

  • Avoid using it during awake times

  • Avoid using a dummy with a neck cord or other attachments

What if my baby refuses the dummy?

Not all babies like using dummies, and that’s okay. If your little one repeatedly refuses a soother, do not force them to take it. If they refuse it completely, don’t worry - following safe sleeping advice like not smoking and placing your baby to sleep on their back will still help to lower their chances of SIDS, even without a soother.

Will using a dummy interfere with breastfeeding?

When introduced correctly, using a soother doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding. Although most experts advise you to avoid using one until after breastfeeding is established (normally around one month old), giving a young newborn a soother won’t make breastfeeding impossible.

The different kinds of dummies

There are different types and shapes of dummies available, and often finding the right one that your baby will like can take a little time. They can be made from various materials including natural rubber, silicone or other soft plastics.

Orthodontic dummies are baby soothers that have a different shaped teat compared to a traditional cherry or round shape soother. They are designed to support the proper development of teeth and gums, and are designed with a tiny air hole in the teat which allows the teat to flatten slightly when in use, putting less pressure on the baby's mouth.

You can also find round or cherry shaped dummies.

Then there's symmetrical shaped dummies that fit perfectly in a baby’s mouth, no matter which way up the soother is.

“We use MAM dummies and have done since DD was 3 weeks old - they've literally saved my life a million times, and I think the shape helps avoid nipple confusion”. Tried and tested by rosieposies.

“We use MAM dummies and have done since DD was 3 weeks old - they've literally saved my life a million times..."

Other factors to consider when choosing a dummy

  • Age and size: Soothers normally have a recommended age range. Newborn ones tend to be smaller and softer, whereas soothers designed for older babies and toddlers are more resilient.

  • Ventilation holes: Make sure your baby’s dummy has ventilation holes in the mouth shield, just in case they do manage the unlikely task of getting the whole thing inside of their mouth.

  • Single piece dummies: These soothers are generally considered more hygienic than those pacifiers that have a separate plastic backing.

  • Easily cleaned: If your baby is younger than 6 months old, choose one that can go into the dishwasher and be sterilised.

  • Same brand: If you’re bottle feeding, consider opting for a dummy from the same brand as the bottle as the teats are often very similar.

What dummies Mumsnetters recommend

When it comes to recommending products, we always consult our forums and check what Mumsnetters love or hate…

“The only dummies she likes are MAM dummies.” Recommended by Veruca.

“He's gone so long with MAM dummies he just spits out any other kind now.” Loved by bingsulaflop’s son.

Tips on getting your baby to take a dummy

  1. Have patience and remember everything is new to babies

  2. Offer it after feedings when they’re full and settled

  3. If your baby is breastfed, feed them and then swap your nipple for the dummy

  4. Tickle the side of their cheeks to encourage their sucking reflex

  5. Try different varieties until you find the right one and check the brand’s research on soother acceptance.

Should you use a dummy clip or chain?

When used correctly, a dummy clip can be a convenient way of keeping your baby’s dummy in place and off the floor. By attaching it to your child’s clothing or a bib, a pacifier chain can help ensure that the baby's dummy is at hand when needed. Plus it can be a useful way to transport their dummy in a safe and hygienic way.

Saying that, it’s important to note safety aspects when it comes to using one. The length is important - make sure it’s not too long, as this can become a choking hazard. Plus, since it will no doubt come into contact with your baby’s mouth at some point, it’s worth picking one made of a suitable material. Organic cotton or linen dummy clips are a great option, as are medical grade silicone dummy clips.

Did you know? There is an EU Standard for any product which intends to be used by a child to connect a soother. Its fancy name is EN 12586:2007, and this helps to ensure such products are safe for their intended use.

How to clean a dummy or soother

Regular cleaning and sterilisation of your baby’s dummy is important to keep viruses and bacteria at bay. This is particularly important for younger babies whose immune systems are still immature and developing.

Keeping them clean is a little easier if you opt for a one-piece design that means there are no joints or cracks where bacteria can accumulate. Regular soothers usually have a crevice where the teat and mouth shield join, so taking extra care while cleaning is important.

Thankfully to make our lives even easier, there are soothers available that can be self-sterilised in just three minutes in a self-sterilising box that are perfect for when you’re on the go.

When to replace your baby’s dummy

Cracks, holes and splits can trap nasty germs that can be harmful to your baby. You should check their soother regularly to see whether it’s worn or degraded. If you find any problems, you should buy a new dummy to replace it and throw away the damaged one.

It is recommended that soothers are replaced every 1 to 2 months, and if your child has teeth, be extra vigilant for signs of damage due to chewing on them.

Perform the ‘pull test’

Babies can choke on any loose bits, so it’s best to inspect well loved soothers regularly for damage. The ‘pull test’ is a popular method of making sure your baby’s dummy is still going strong. Performing this very quick test will help give you peace of mind.

Quickly pull the teat in all directions, and inspect it carefully, ensuring any signs of wear and tear or weakness have been checked before you give it to your child.

How to wean your baby off a dummy

Once your child reaches 12 months and above, you may find that they develop more attachments. If you’re ready to potentially suffer a few days of protest and tears, you can usually wean your tot off their pacifier quite quickly. Some useful steps to follow include:

  1. Set a date. Pick a quiet weekend where it doesn’t matter if you have some disrupted sleep. Make sure it’s the right time for your child, too, and avoid trying to wean them off their soother if you’ve just had another baby, moved house, or if they’re recently been ill.

  2. Replace it. Offer something new to cheer them up, like a blanket or new teddy. Even a new duvet cover at bedtime can help to distract them from missing their soother.

  3. Praise them. Give them lots of praise when they do sleep without a dummy, which should help to build their confidence and maintain a positive experience for you both.

  4. Don’t back down. If they manage to go one night soother-free then they can manage the next, and the one after that. Do not give in if they suddenly want it back.

Other practical ideas that may help include giving the soother to Santa or ‘the dummy fairy’, or by swapping the dummy for a reward.

Why you should choose MAM soothers

A dummy’s primary purpose is to soothe and help settle or calm your baby, and hopefully reduce tears for both you and your little one when it comes to naps and nighttime sleep. This is why they’re also referred to as pacifiers, comforters, or soothers.

When you buy a soother, it’s worth considering brands like MAM who have designed and created soothers together with dentists and orthodontists to make sure they’re 100% safe for your baby.

About MAM

We’re MAM and we love babies. We believe that only the best is good enough for them! That’s why for over 45 years we’ve been developing extra-safe baby products that combine attractive, innovative design with proven medical benefits. So, parents can feel confident, and babies feel good.

About the author

Rebecca Roberts is a writer, editor, and content marketing expert hailing from Leeds. Here at Mumsnet, she commissions, writes, and edits to bring parents content designed to make life easier. After birthing two babies just 15 months apart, she knows all too well the struggle of finding products that are good quality, work and more importantly, accepted by your kids. So, you can be sure to trust her judgement when it comes to finding the best baby products that are specifically designed to help make parents' lives easier.

Beyond her role as an editor here at Mumsnet, Rebecca can be found balancing life as a working mum of two toddlers and when she’s not at her desk, you’ll likely find her at a local playgroup, in a nearby coffee shop, or walking the dog.