'Soother kids' hear things differently! 3 years ago

'Soother kids' hear things differently!

Did you promise yourself you would never use a soother and now find that it’s the one thing you can’t live without? Did you vow to only use them for sleep times with your little ones but find you now have one stashed everywhere – in the car, in your room, in their room, in your handbag, in grannies house – you know, just in case?

Well, you’re not alone. Almost every child has been at least offered a soother at some point while they are young. Those that don’t end up taking them, just get on with it, but those that do, generally LOVE them!

I am not anti-soother in terms of sleep and little ones as I have mentioned before. My opinion is that a soother that is used as a 'plug' and constantly in a child’s mouth (or dangling off them on a chain all day) is just plain wrong. I am talking about older children and toddlers here.

However, I feel there is a definite place for them for lots of BABIES. Used correctly (i.e. as a soother – to soothe), it can be a pretty effective piece of paraphernalia. A soother should be used to calm babies and help their breathing pattern slow down to a restful and steady rhythm. Although it is a sleep aid, a soother is also a very reliable tool for sleep association. It is one of the only things I know that acts as both a sleep aid and a sleep association tool. Where possible, try not to give your baby a soother in between feeding and sleeping, although I do understand that there are times, certainly as they become toddlers, when this can cause a battle – or when you just need a few minutes of peace.

In terms of sleep and helping your little ones to fall asleep, a dummy can be really helpful. Try to use it during the beginning stages of sleep to help them nod off, but don’t insist on putting it back in if it falls out of their mouths while they sleep. Remember, they are ASLEEP. They aren’t looking for it and if you try and put it back in, you might rouse them!

And although many parents swear by them, there is a potential downside, which I suspect many parents try not to think about. And that is in the area of speech development. A new study at the University of British Columbia has found that a child hears sounds differently when a soother is in their mouth than when there is no soother present. The research involved getting babies to listen to two similar sounds. With soothers in their mouths, babies couldn’t discern between the two. Once the soothers were taken out, they could tell the difference. I hadn’t thought about this potential link to hearing sounds differently before - I would have been more aware of the potential issues with speech delays or speech itself.

Perrine Cahill, a Speech and Language therapist in Dublin says that parents ask her about soothers all the time. She says, that “Beyond a certain age, are they really necessary? Not just in the context of sleep, children need to learn how to self soothe without a crutch. Also, in my opinion and irrespective of what the research suggests, once a child has something in their mouth, it acts as a communication barrier making it a greater challenge for children to express themselves. Cahill feels that “while the evidence on this subject can be conflicting, particularly when it comes to that of speech sound development, we should always be encouraging children, from as early as possible, to have a voice and be active communicators.”

If you have concerns and want to ditch the soother, you can find my tips here.

Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She's also a baby and childcare guru, a 'parent nanny' and the answer to many a weary parent's woes. A regular in the Irish media, Niamh's book, No Fuss Baby & Toddler Sleep, is now available to buy from all good book stores or online from Amazon.com.