Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Dummies, Bottles & Blankets?

What is your opinion on babies/children having dummies (pacifiers), bottles or blankets for comfort?

There is a lot of opinion out there on this topic - so it is a great question. Research shows that dummies (or pacifiers) could actually help prevent cot death (SIDS). However, it is recommended they are not given up to newly born babies until they have perfected sucking when breastfeeding, and are able to suck/breastfeed effectively, otherwise, problems with breastfeeding might occur. My personal viewpoint on dummies is that they are useful for helping babies learn how to self-soothe when going to sleep - or if they wake up and need to return to sleep. It also may help to soothe an awake distressed baby - the sucking motion actually helps babies with colic and it is comforting. What I don’t agree with is dummies used for large amounts of time during a baby/child’s ‘awake time’. It inhibits their communication to you - which initially is crying/grizzling, then becomes baby noises and words. By ‘plugging up their mouths’, we may be delaying their speech/language development.

We have discussed the stage in a baby’s life that might be a good time for a dummy/pacifier to be introduced - but when is a good time to stop? My advice would be to start weaning them from their dummy between 9 - 12 months. During that time, I would restrict the use of their dummy to bedtime only, and at the same time, ensure good sleep habits are in place (see our previous advice on sleep).

If dummies are continued after this age, two things can happen; a real dependence on the dummy from your child that creates a habit that is difficult to break, and the older your child gets, the more the dummy starts to cause your toddlers mouth to form abnormally and cause speech problems.

If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of comfort blankets, but some mothers prefer them to dummies. My only advice would be that you do not offer the blanket to your child for comfort unless it is bedtime/they are in bed. Secondly, that you do try to wean them (once they are breastfeeding effectively) from it at a similar stage as you might wean a baby from a dummy. Otherwise, you will face ongoing battles as your child gets older.

With regards to bottles, Plunket advise that they are exchanged for ‘sippy cups’ by age 12 months. This is to aid their development. Personally, since children this age are now drinking from this kind of cup during the day (mostly water), I don’t see any problem with offering a bottle to a baby as part of their relaxing bedtime routine. However, at some stage between 12 and 18 months, this needs to be exchanged for a cup if you still want your child to be having drinks before bed (not a good idea if you’re potty training when they reach 2 years old!)

Again, if you leave it any later than this, their understanding grows. I have seen 3 and 4 year old children still having a bottle before bed an their parents giving it in order to avoid the battle that ensues! Don’t create that situation for yourself - it’s easier to wean them while they’re still young.

However, if your child is well into toddler hood, still with a dummy, comfort blanket or depending on night time bottles, and you’d like to know the best way to get rid of them, I cannot fault television’s super nanny and her technique for bundling these items up with your child and offering them to the fairies in exchange for a fairy present (something they really want). I have seen lots of variations of this, and if done in a positive way with lots of praise, it seems to work. An alternative might be a reward chart - bet either way, a child at this stage needs an incentive to give up their most loved item!

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