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03rd Jul 2023

Should you give your child a soother? Here’s exactly what you need to know


Should you give your child a soother? Here’s what you need to know (and it’s good news).

Until you have battled with a baby who just won’t settle – you just can’t understand the relief it is when you finally get them to take a soother and find you are not a human pacifier anymore. Or discover what it feels like to not have to rock a baby to sleep every goddamn night until your back and arms ache.

The problem? Many have heard horror stories about soothers, and how bad they supposedly are for speech development and teeth.

Well – we have some good news. According to research by the University of Sydney, there is no correlation between dummy use and speech problems in children.

Dr Elise Baker, the lead researcher in this study, has worked in the field of speech therapy for the last 20 years. She recently chatted to the radio show the Kinderling Conversation and revealed that the most common type of speech problem in children is ‘phonology impairment’.

“This sounds very technical. But phono means sound. And ology means knowledge. Knowledge of sounds is what children need most when they’re learning to talk,” says Elise.

“Take a word like spaghetti. Your one-year-old won’t say the word perfectly, but they’ll find very cute ways of simplifying tricky words. As children get older, they learn grammar and rules about language and the sounds that make up our words, in English.”

When a child is struggling to figure out the rules around which sounds go with which words, that’s when they experience phonology impairment.

“We call this a speech impediment, and the symptom is that the child’s speech is difficult to understand.”

In the University of Sydney research, Elise and her team looked at the use of dummies in relation to this impairment.

“We recruited 199 children from in and around Sydney. A portion of these children had phonology impairment and the rest of the children had no problem at all,” says Elise.

“We asked their parents about their child’s sucking habits – everything from breastfeeding, bottle feeding, dummies and thumb-sucking. And around 1 in 2 children had used a dummy, and the same number didn’t. So there was literally no association.”

The researchers also tested if the use of a dummy made the children’s speech impairments worse.

“Again, we found no clear relationship,” she says.