pink dummy, baby soother

Using a Dummy — The Pros and Cons

Sucking is a primary reflex in newborns which ensures they survive and thrive on their mother’s breast milk. However, this miracle of evolution also serves another purpose: to comfort. For better or for worse, these facts help to explain why dummies and pacifiers are an everyday sight across the globe.

But, using a dummy can be a divisive subject; with some parents thinking they look “common” and others seeing only their practical benefit. Here, we try to take the controversy out of the dummy issue by looking at the evidence and asking the question: What are the pros and cons of using a dummy?

Dummies — the pros

There are a number of possible advantages to using a dummy or pacifier. These include the following:

  • Potentially lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): a number of US studies indicate a reduced chance of SIDS among babies who use dummies during sleeps and naps. However, the NHS reports that the evidence in these studies is not strong and points out that there is disagreement among SIDS experts as to whether dummies should be promoted. (1)
  • May encourage breastfeeding in mothers with postpartum depression (PPD): a study reported in the Journal of Human Lactation found that mothers who were at risk of PPD had higher breastfeeding success rates if they gave their child a dummy.(2) This may be because a dummy reduces pressure on the mother, and her breasts, as the sole source of comfort. To some extent, dummies may be able to help children learn to self-soothe.
  • A practical solution to stressful situations: dummies can help parents and babies to negotiate stressful situations such as vaccinations and illness. In short, they can give parents a bit of break by allowing babies to calm down and self-soothe at times when they may struggle to offer the necessary support themselves.
  • Helps with long journeys: a dummy can help young children endure long journeys more easily. This is particularly true for air travel as sucking on a dummy can help alleviate some of the middle ear pressure that results from being at altitude.
  • Helping preterm babies: studies indicate that giving a dummy to a preterm baby may reduce the duration of hospital stays and also improve bottle feeding outcomes. This may be because a dummy strengthens the muscles involved in the sucking reflex.(3)

Dummies — the cons

There are numerous potential downsides to using a dummy. These include the following:

  • Sucking instinct and nipple confusion: your baby will use her sucking instinct to breastfeed. However, if you give her a newborn dummy before breastfeeding is established, you risk compromising this, so should always wait until breastfeeding is firmly established.(4)
  • Increased infections: regular or persistent use of a dummy may lead to increased stomach, mouth and middle ear infections.(5)
  • Incorrect positioning of teeth: regular dummy use can cause the development of protruding teeth and misalignment of the bite. This can result in a lisp as repeated dummy sucking can affect the development of “s” and “z” sounds when speaking.(6)
  • Delays in speech and language development: if your baby often has a dummy in her mouth it can result in delays in her language development as well as problems with the development of lip and tongue muscles. If your child uses a dummy, you may notice that she does not babble or experiment with sounds as often or as inventively as other babies her age.
  • Tooth decay: some parents cover the dummy with honey or jam — this can result in tooth decay.
  • Over reliance: using a dummy can prevent a child from developing more lasting and sophisticated methods of self-soothing for stressful situations or for getting to sleep. Once your child becomes attached to a dummy you then have the question of how and when to wean her off it.


Every parent will make their own choice about whether a dummy is right for their child, while some children will almost seem to decide for themselves. However, it is important that your choice is informed by the evidence rather than by any feelings of prejudice or pure short-term convenience.

4. Righard, L and Alade, M. Breastfeeding and the use of pacifiers. Birth 1997; 24(2): 116-20.

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.