The Great Dummy Debate – A Personal Perspective From An IBCLC

All my children had dummies…. Was this a good thing?  The answer is both yes and no for me.  For my first child, having a dummy was the means to an end and also the beginning of a slippery slope to early weaning.

When I brought my first beautiful newborn baby home from hospital, I was elated.  This lovely scene came crashing down around me when breastfeeding went very wrong.  My baby was drowsy and I was getting more and more frustrated that she wasn’t feeding.  Eventually after she became more alert, she REALLY wanted to feed.  By this stage breastfeeding was excruciating.  I dreaded attaching this beautiful little bubba to my breast to feed.  I started trying anything I could to delay feeding her and stretch the feeds out.  This inevitably led to using a dummy.  There were two things wrong with this.

Firstly, she was crying because she wanted to feed and make up for the days that she had been drowsy.  She was showing me all the feeding cues and I just didn’t recognise them.  Also, my breasts were not getting the stimulation they needed to make the amount of milk my baby needed.

Secondly, she was already attaching poorly and introducing a foreign teat which in no way stretches and functions like a breast was, in my opinion, contributing to her trouble.

In the end I couldn’t face the toe-curling pain with each feed and chose to express my breastmilk and feed it to her with a bottle.  I was disappointed and sad that breastfeeding hadn’t worked out for me.  It wasn’t all about the dummy, but it certainly didn’t help.

My second and third babies also had dummies.  This time around I was more informed and more determined to get things right.  So I chose to focus on establishing breastfeeding as a priority after I had the baby – electing to use other settling techniques and delaying the use of a dummy until about 6-8 weeks.  When I did use the dummy it was sparingly and when I knew that the baby’s tummy was full.  I tuned into my babies and looked for feeding cues, I also realised that I had a limited milk storage capacity and that my babies really NEEDED to feed frequently to thrive – which they did.  I used the dummy to help them to get to sleep, in the car on short trips when I couldn’t feed them and when I had to attend to my other children briefly.

In the end they were both exclusively breastfed until 6 months and went on to breastfeed until I chose to wean them.

From an IBCLC’s point of view there are both pro’s and con’s to dummy use.  It can help in certain specific breastfeeding situations – to encourage a premature baby’s sucking for example.  It can also hinder by reducing a mother’s milk supply, reducing a baby’s nutritional intake and by introducing something other than a mother’s breast into a baby’s mouth.  Some people refer to this as nipple confusion – some people don’t believe in such a thing, but what I take away from this is that some babies are more susceptible to having poor attachment when exposed to using a dummy than others.  You won’t know if this will be a problem for your baby until after it happens.  It’s just as important to know that even if your baby’s breastfeeding has been negatively affected by a dummy/bottle/nipple shield, there ARE things you can do to get things back on the right track, and an IBCLC may be just the person to help you.


Image by Carlos Porto

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