Dummies – saints or sinners?
The debate has received a new injection of enthusiasm following a piece of research from Newcastle university: ‘Does the duration and frequency of dummy (pacifier) use affect the development of speech’? (Strutt, C, Khattab,G, and Willoughby, J (2021).
This research has both added some interesting points to the current knowledge store and reinforced some things already known – they are summarised below:
Dummies have a role to play as comforters/pacifiers
They offer some protection from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) – we didn’t know that – did you?
Dummies used at night are less detrimental than day-time dummy usage. That makes sense as typical toddlers will be ‘talking’ during almost every waking moment. A dummy in place during this time is – literally – in the way.
There is a link between an increase in atypical errors (errors which might be described as odd or unusual – which are not part of normal developmental processes) and frequency of daytime dummy usage. This is important to know as atypical errors make a child’s speech more difficult to understand and are often harder to shift if the child eventually requires therapy.
There is a link between dummy use and otitis media (ear infections). We didn’t know that either – another good reason why prolonged usage should be discouraged.
There is also a link between dummy use and dental malformations. The dummy use could indirectly impact on speech sound development – i.e. sounds are affected by the malformation/s.
Working in an inner-city clinic in the 1990s, overshadowed by towering blocks of flats, I remember an experienced and much-loved health visitor weighing into the dummy debate with young mums and crying babies.
Here is what she said: – “I’d sooner they used a dummy than chucked ‘em off the balcony”
No-one would argue with that!
However… using a dummy frequently and continuously during waking hours impact upon speech and language development and can quickly become a habit which is be hard to break.
The more we understand about the effect of dummies (and the use of bottles) beyond the recommended age, the more we can support parents to help their child ‘kick the habit’
Perhaps one of the most important things to take away from this new research is that professionals should offer a balanced view and advice will differ at different points in a child’s life.