I have a lot of new parents who ask me what I think about the use of a soother or dummy to help settle a baby that is still crying in spite of having all their physical needs met.
[Needs being, food, drink, hot, cold, wet or soiled nappy, needing a cuddle or reassurance that all is well in their world].
The act of sucking whether for nutritive or non-nutritive reasons is a healthy, reflexive action that is innate in all babies. It enables the baby to self-comfort, calm, reorganise itself and gain control when upset or stressed. Sucking is thought to play an important role in the clinical well-being of the baby and as such non-nutritive sucking should be viewed as a part of the total sucking experience.
There are many strong views expressed on the use of a soother but babies in the womb are often viewed as early as 12 weeks gestation sucking on their own fingers or thumb. So lets look at the pros and cons of using a soother.
- Benefits for the baby by calming and soothing and conserving the parents psychological well-being by having a calm baby
- Said to protect against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Research by various bodies have demonstrated this. It is thought to be related to an increased arousal reflex in the baby whereby the tongue is encouraged forward thus preventing obstruction of the airways
- The use of a soother can replace the use of digits or other material objects for sucking, this is thought to be more hygienic and easier to discontinue
- May have an effect on the duration of beast feeding. This is a contentious issue and many health professionals disagree on this. However, a Cochrane Review in 2016 concluded that pacifier use in healthy term breastfeeding infants, started from birth or after after lactation is established, does not significantly affect the prevalence or duration of exclusive breastfeeding
- Increased risk of ear infections. There is no really conclusive evidence to support this theory. Studies have concluded that the benefits of reducing the risk of SIDS outweighs any risk of having an ear infection.
- Possible impact on oral health and dentition. This is another area that causes concern to parents. However, research and evidence has concluded that an orthodontic soother can be used. This will help reduce the risk of any problems associated with non-nutritive sucking. The recommendation is also that the use of the soother should be discouraged from their use by the age of 36 months or younger
Ultimately, the choice of whether or not to use a soother is up to you – the parents.
However, there are certain pieces of information that you need to make this decision
- Choose the appropriate size for your baby
- Look for a soother that has the oral health foundation approval. Also look for a soother that it is made without the synthetic compound bisphenol A (BPA)
- If breastfeeding wait until breastfeeding is established (UNICEF 2016)
- When soothers are used to help the baby settle, they should be used at every sleep event (Lullaby Trust 2016)
- If the baby spits out the soother once asleep, do not replace. A soother should not be forced on a baby, have no attachments or dipped in sweet substances (Lullaby Trust 2016)
- Care should be given to the cleansing of the soother and sterilised to prevent stomach infections. Also replace when signs of wear are seen
- Encourage discontinuation of the soother as soon as possible (some research says 6-12 months). Most definitely by 2 years (Lullaby Trust, 2016)