Done with the dummy? Our sleep expert on how to get rid of it
Soothers, binky, dodie, do-do. Whatever it is you call them, they can become either your most trusted child-related accessory or the bane of your life.
Many parents promise and vow never to use a soother only to find themselves sending the other half out to a 24-hour local shop in the middle of the night to buy as many as possible.
If your baby doesn't use a dummy by the time they are six months old (either because you haven't used one, or because they haven't taken to it), then I wouldn't start trying to introduce one at a later age. It may be a wasted effort as it's unlikely they will take one – although I do know of a two-year-old who has only recently started taking a dummy because she sees her pals in crèche sucking away at naptime!
You may think that as a sleep coach, I am anti-soother; 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!
There are so many choices as to what type of soother to buy. It can often be a case of trial and error but one idea would be to keep within the brand of bottles you may be using. Many bottle brands have a range of soothers, so that can often make the decision easier.
I have mentioned sleep aids and sleep associations in previous pieces, and while not a fan of sleep aids like music, white noise and lights for little ones at bedtime, soothers are a bit of an exception. They allow the baby to suck until they are calm and their breathing steadies into a nice rhythm; it can become a strong sleep association tool.
Often, one of the fears with introducing soothers are the stories we all hear about trying to get rid of them as little ones grow older. So, here's a little bit of advice:
- As your child gets older, limit soother use to bedtime and nap times if your little one still has a daytime snooze. Start to pull back on the times you might offer them, For example, if previously you tended to give it to them in the car, try to hold off doing so and distract with car games or songs. Break the association as such.
- Santa is very soother-friendly. Once, after a conversation about dummies I had on air with Ray D’Arcy, Santa emailed the show to remind mums and dads that he loves to collect soothers that are no longer needed, for all the new tiny babies in the world.
- Some parks, including Marlay Park in Rathfarnham, have magic fairy trees where old soothers that are no longer wanted will be taken away by the fairies. My sister’s back garden had an even more special tree where fairies had left my niece, Sive, a thank you present the day after parting with hers (having been a little bit devastated at bedtime). Magical.
- Another much more sneaky option is to gradually put little pin pricks in the top of the soother. Over a few days or weeks, the soothers, while previously a pleasurable experience, will have lost their 'suckability' and will just become a bit annoying for your toddlers. I like this idea as it’s no-one's fault and the soothers simply “stop working” (I suggest you avoid going anywhere that sells soothers for some time if you decide to use this method.)
Remember though, the decision is yours: To suck or not to suck, that is the question.
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. When it comes to baby and child issues, Niamh is your woman.