Information on how dummies can affect speech and language development

Whether you call them dummies, soothers or pacifiers, there is lots of information available about how they can negatively impact a child’s development.

This article shares some of this information to help you make an informed decision about how your child uses them and how to avoid later difficulties.

Research does show that they are a helpful aid to settle a baby and can offer them comfort. They can also even reduce the risk of cot death in very young babies.

However, as a child grows older the research shows that these benefits reduce rapidly and that continued use can have a negative impact on a child's speech and language development.

The reason for this is that babies need to babble before they can learn to talk. They need to have full use of their tongue and mouth movements. This allows them to experiment with sounds and have opportunities to copy adults noises and words.

A dummy restricts the full tongue and mouth movement needed for a baby or toddler to learn to make noises and eventually talk.

Continued dummy use can also effect the shape of children’s growing teeth.

Children are learning the skills of talking and communicating the moment they are born and as they reach 12 -18 months old they start to make huge developmental leaps in their talking and communication skills. If a child has a dummy in their mouth they are less likely to experiment with sounds and babbling - all of which are essential to the development.

When a child has a dummy in their mouth, the front of the tongue goes flat and the back of the tongue goes up. In this position a child can not pronounce sounds correctly. After persistent dummy use it is hard to re-teach the tongue to change position to form a 'normal' tongue shape and equally hard to re-teach the child how to say the sounds in words correctly.

If your child does have a dummy try to keep the use to a minimum and set clear boundaries for the times they have it.

Speech Therapists recommend "ditching the dummy" around the age of 12-18 months, if not before, so it doesn't have an impact on their future talking skills.

toddler sitting on wooden bench

Here are some simple top tips:

  • Keep the dummy just for nap and bedtime. As your child gets older you can encourage them to put the dummy in their cot/bed ready for bedtime - this will soon become part of their routine.
  • Make sure your child doesn’t have a dummy in their mouth while they are playing, sharing stories and exploring the world – they will then be more likely to experiment with making sounds and imitating your sounds and words.
  • If your child persistently uses a dummy, try to distract them with other exciting things - it won't take long before they forget about it while they are playing.
  • Put the dummy out of sight when the child is not using it - out of sight, out of mind.
  • Remember a dummy is just one tool to offer comfort and you can decide when and how your child uses it.

Top Tip

When you are playing with your child, changing their nappy or going for a walk, take the opportunity to talk to them about what you are both doing and the things you can both see. The more words they hear- the more likely they will begin to use them themselves.
Useful advice on how to ditch the dummy
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