Many parents of colicky babies are confused about whether they should offer their baby a dummy, or use alternative settling techniques. This is due to the conflicting information around the advantages and disadvantages of dummies. Depending on your circumstances, using a dummy may help to settle your baby with colic.
YOUR BABY’S REFLEXES AND NUTRITIVE SUCKING
Babies develop several reflexes in utero to prepare them for life after birth. One of these is the sucking reflex. Babies are born with a strong instinct to suck and for good reason, as their survival depends on this. Another reflex that goes hand in hand with sucking is the rooting reflex. The rooting reflex helps a newborn baby to instinctively find the breast after birth. You might notice your newborn display this reflex when something touches the side of their cheek and they instinctively open their mouth and move their head towards the stimulus. When a nipple or bottle teat touches your baby’s mouth, their lips wrap around it and their tongue reaches over the bottom gum line. The nipple or teat is drawn back in your baby’s mouth where a negative pressure allows the breast or bottle to be ‘milked’ by your baby’s tongue. When a baby is sucking either through breast or bottle feeding, this is called nutritive sucking.
NON NUTRITIVE SUCKING
When a baby sucks on a dummy, their thumb or hands, this is called non nutritive sucking. Both nutritive and non nutritive sucking trigger your baby’s innate calming reflexes. This is why many parents discover that their baby calms quickly when offered a dummy to suck on. This is also why breastfeeding mothers find that nursing their babies not only provides nutrition, but also comfort. Sucking has been shown to lower a baby’s heart rate and blood pressure, and reduce stress levels and crying.
HOW DUMMIES CAN HELP BABIES WITH COLIC
Dummies can be beneficial for colicky babies as they provide an instant relief from crying and comfort.
In addition to this, sucking triggers relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter which can help gas move effectively through the gut. Using a dummy after feeds can also help avoid overfeeding your baby, which may be contributing to discomfort and tummy troubles.
TIPS FOR USING DUMMIES
If your baby is bottle fed, you can offer them a dummy from birth. If your baby is breastfed, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until your baby is one month old or breastfeeding is well established before offering a dummy. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s also important to only offer the dummy when your baby is not hungry. In the early weeks postpartum when your breast milk supply is becoming established, using a dummy to stretch out your baby’s feeds might negatively impact your supply or your baby’s growth.
If your baby is under 6 months, sterilize their dummy regularly. Check dummies for degradation and replace them often (every 6 weeks is recommended). Using a dummy that is molded material in one piece decreases the risk of choking than if the dummy is made in two pieces. If your baby is over 6 months, never dip their dummy in food, as this can cause tooth decay.
SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT DUMMY DEPENDENCE?
Some parents worry about offering their baby a dummy in case they become too dependent on it. Others worry that their baby might wake more frequently if they loose their dummy during the night. The truth is, most babies wake frequently during the night regardless of whether they have a dummy or not. There is even research to show that dummy use at night is correlated with a reduced risk of SIDS.
There is also concern regarding the use of dummies and normal oral development. There is no strong evidence to suggest that dummy use will impact the development of speech in young children. There is evidence to suggest that if dummies are used beyond the age of three, it may impact tooth alignment.