Will using a dummy cause nipple confusion?

Should I give my baby a dummy?​

Many of us have grown up with the idea that pacifiers (dummies) are a standard tool to help babies settle and calm down if they appear upset or are crying. 

As we look around (western) society, at posters, greeting cards, and various forms of advertising, we see many baby-related images associated with pacifiers, so much so, they have become ingrained into our culture. 

Some mothers wonder why their baby is using them as a dummy.

We know that babies are born with an instinct to suck, and they suck at the breast for comfort, warmth, and also for nutrition, so biologically speaking, your breast is the normal way of providing comfort for your baby.

Dummies are a substitute for the breast!

Your baby will come to the breast frequently, and while this can feel overwhelming, it is certainly normal.

A young baby crying

Many women feel confused about whether it is ever acceptable to give their baby a dummy.

Some use one occasionally, for example, while they are driving in the car with their baby.

If your baby happens to be crying and you’re unable to get to your baby at that point, this, of course, could be useful!

Others want to give their baby a dummy because their baby is crying a lot, and want to help him to calm down.

If you are considering this option, you must know that the first four to six weeks is usually the period when you are building up and establishing your milk supply.

Therefore it is recommended you wait until you have established your milk supply, and your baby is gaining weight regularly according to his growth chart.

Also, consider other reasons why your baby may be fussy and crying.

It may take a bit of detective work, and it could be useful to speak with an IBCLC, breastfeeding counselor, midwife, or healthcare provider for more support.

If you find that your baby isn’t gaining weight well in those early weeks, put the dummy aside, and instead bring your baby to the breast.

A pacifier may so pacify some babies that the feeding cues are sometimes masked.

Instead of your baby stimulating your supply by suckling, the dummy itself may cause him to settle down, and therefore, not to ask for milk, and thus not to generate all the milk he needs, potentially causing poor weight gain.

If you are experiencing difficulties with latching or sore nipples, mastitis or blocked ducts, it could be worth stopping the use of a dummy.

Dummies are sometimes given to premature babies to aid digestion and to help to stimulate the sucking reflex if they have breastmilk via tube feeding.

Still, you’ll find this is usually a temporary situation.

A baby lying on their belly

Please also be aware that dummy use has been associated with thrush infections in babies’ mouths, which can be passed on to mum, as well as an increased risk of ear infections for babies.

It’s also been shown that prolonged use of dummies can also cause teeth to come in squint and can sometimes affect a baby’s speech development.

I think that you could surmise from this information that I’m not in the habit of encouraging dummy use, but I do appreciate that there has to be some flexibility.

Getting your breast milk established first is essential, and keeping a watchful eye on your baby’s weight too.

Finally, I would reiterate the fact that biologically you are the most important source of comfort for your baby. 

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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