Monday, 15 June 2015

Getting rid of a dummy

Dummies (or pacifiers for those on the other side of the ocean) are a controversial topic. Sleep experts and breastfeeding advocates frequently advise against them, many people hate the look of them and swear they will never use one. Yet their use has been shown to slightly reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death) and lots of parents will end up using a dummy, whatever their intention was! It can be a useful tool, but what do you do when it's time to let them go?


Sometimes a baby can be so disturbed by a dummy falling out that they wake and cry frequently through the night. If they don't yet have the mobility or motor skills to get the dummy for themselves this can be extremely difficult for the parents. I have worked with little ones who woke as often as 20 times a night, so this can be a really tough problem!

You can lessen your baby's dependence on the dummy by allowing them very limited access. You let the baby suck for a short time, perhaps 20 or 30 seconds to begin with, then remove it. When they begin to fuss you give another short burst. The idea is that the child still gets some comfort but breaks the habit of constant use, falls asleep without the dummy and over time you reduce the time allowed. It does sometimes take a while for this to work so you need to be persistent, consistent and very determined!

Unfortunately this method doesn't always lead to giving up the dummy altogether, and some children don't like it at all. In that case you are going to have to go cold turkey. There are plenty of things you can do to support your child and make the experience as gentle as possible, but it is going to be tough for a few days. The alternative is to continue putting the dummy back in until they are old enough to find it for themselves. Avoid any sort of tie, cuddly toy attached to the dummy or other way of keeping them in, as those are potentially risky for a young baby.


If your toddler has a dummy you face a slightly different challenge. They may sleep quite happily through the night now but your concerns are for tooth development, speech patterns and the fact that you toddler can't have one all day when they start school! Your approach here will depend on how attached they are to the dummy.

Reducing dummy dependence

If you are currently taking a dummy with you everywhere you go it is probably a good idea to reduce that dependence as much as possible before taking them away altogether. I do this by gradually allowing the dummy less and less, using boundaries that a toddler can understand. You will need to be firm at first when you move on to a new step, your toddler will protest at the change in the rules! But stick to your word and they will soon get used to it. Some steps I have used are:

  1. Dummy can be used at home and on journeys, but stays in the car/my bag when we get to playgroups and classes.
  2. Dummy stays at home, and can wait on the sofa or somewhere near the door for us to come back.
  3. Dummy use is reduced at home. Whenever the child isn't using the dummy it is put out of sight so they are less likely to request it. I also "don't understand" anything said with a dummy in, even a single word. Generally they get so tired of taking it in and out that they give up!
  4. Dummies are only allowed in bed.
  5. Any preferred dummy might be "lost" or "broken", leaving those the child likes less.
This will take a few weeks, perhaps even a couple of months, but it makes the whole process much more gentle. I would also start to encourage an attachment to a cuddly toy (who stays in bed) if they don't already have a favourite as that will help in the first few dummy-free nights.

The last dummy

There are lots of different things you can do to try to make giving up dummies a little easier for your toddler. Most of them involve a little ceremony or ritual that helps your child to understand that the dummies are gone now (and may also put the blame on some outside agent instead of the parent!) You know your child best so choose whichever you think will work for them.

  • "Breaking" the dummies. If you make a small hole in the sucking part of a dummy it no longer makes a seal and the child sucks air (like a straw) instead of the satisfying suck they are used to. Some children will then be happy to give them up and put them in the bin.
  • The dummy fairy. Leave your dummies out and the fairy will take them away. She takes them to give to tiny babies who need them more than a big toddler does, and is so grateful that she leaves a gift to say thankful. This is especially good for any child with a strong sense of empathy, since they like the idea of helping little babies.
  • Santa. Much like the dummy fairy, Father Christmas has been known to take dummies hung on a Christmas tree and replace them with a special bauble or gift.
  • Teddy bear. You can take the child on a special outing to Build a Bear and let them make a teddy. Along with the heart and sound machine put a dummy inside. That way the child still has a dummy, but now it's for holding and cuddling instead of sucking.
  • Family ritual. Why not come up with your own little ritual to mark the occasion? You could have a special meal with a cake, plant the dummies in a pot with a houseplant (not in the garden as they wont decompose) or hang a big piece of paper over a door for your child to burst through from babyhood to childhood, leaving the dummy behind. Whatever you choose, keep it positive as you move on to the next adventure!
Whichever approach you choose to take, however elaborate or simple it is, be prepared for reality to hit. Ultimately there is likely to come a moment when your little one climbs into bed without a dummy for the first time and isn't sure how to soothe themselves to sleep. Reassure them, give hugs, make sure they have their favourite teddy or use a sleep coaching method but whatever you do, don't give the dummies back. The first night is by far the hardest in the majority of cases (sometimes night one is easy but it hits on night two or three) Just get through it, celebrate in the morning and you will never look back!