Let’s look at the dummy from a Speech Pathologist’s viewpoint.
Did you know sucking (well any stimulation to that joint where your jaw hinges from, the temporo-mandibular joint, which often includes chewing gum or biting nails as an adult) promotes calmness and body awareness? It’s no wonder many babies are ‘sucky’ babies! And besides calming your baby, maybe promoting body awareness is also a positive out of sucking.
I’m in no place to comment as to the thumb/finger sucking vs dummy debate. Here is a good link to the Raising Children Network about the pros/cons about dummies. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/should_you_use_a_dummy.html
But yes, sometimes dummy sucking can be difficult to stop (as can thumb sucking). http://raisingchildren.net.au/ditching_the_dummy.html
When should you get rid of the dummy?
Basically, the sooner the better but there is obviously a ‘safe’ time as far as speech and dental development. Some say it should be gone by six months, to avoid a habit forming, but I’m fairly sure you’ll still face difficulties getting rid of it then! The next thing to consider is when and how often is your baby using the dummy? The more they use it, the less chance for babbling and speech development. I have seen toddlers who manage to talk with a dummy in their mouth or those that are choosing not to say anything because they are quite comfortable sucking…and I have to restrain myself from taking it out of their mouths!
How does it affect speech development?
First, you’ll need to experience the sucking for yourself. So go and grab a dummy or just stick a thumb in your mouth and suck! Feel where your tongue is and how your jaw feels. Now take it out and let your mouth go back to a resting position with your lips together. Feel the difference! Try a suck again and you’ll notice how your jaw sits forward, along with your tongue. The longer your child’s jaw and tongue sit in this position, the more the brain gets used to this feeling as ‘normal’. It is certainly not a ‘normal’ resting position to achieve normal speech development.
And looking into the future, this abnormal resting position with the tongue and jaw sitting forward can promote a lisp. Have a go at saying any sentence with your jaw resting forward, even just slightly forward, and you can see how some people end up with speech errors. I have no data to say exactly when dummy sucking equates to a lisp but this is the time to use common sense. Aim for dummy sucking only at ‘non speech times‘ such as in the cot, car or pram but not in social scenarios or times you have noted your baby babbling or attempting words. It is good to think this through very early when you introduce a dummy – will you only allow it in the cot/make them put it into a cup at the end of sleep time or will you just plan to cut it off altogether by around 12 months? Soon after 12 months, your baby learns to communicate more, say ‘no’ and tries to take more control of their life (!!), so you will certainly have a harder time telling them when/where they can use it if firm rules have not been set up since before they can remember!
A little bit more on speech development
Babbling starts on average at six months of age and words come around 12 months, so this is about the time you will need to think about where the dummy fits into your baby’s life. Of course you can’t take a thumb away either, but I have noticed babies tend to automatically take a thumb out when they have something to say, but maybe it is harder with a dummy as they know they will then have to hold onto it..
What many people don’t know is that a certain percentage of lisps are not just a speech error but caused by a ‘tongue thrust’ or ‘reverse swallow‘. This relates to the child retaining that early swallow pattern (with the tongue pushing forward to swallow), which can certainly come about from excess sucking on a dummy or thumb as a baby. A tongue thrust involves the tongue pushing forward against the front teeth in order to be able to swallow, instead of pushing against the roof of our mouth and backwards. This constant pushing of the tongue against the teeth can cause dental issues and ‘interdentalized’ sounds (/s/, /t/, /d/, /n/), where the tongue sits in between the teeth to produce them, instead of behind. Braces and speech therapy will not be able to repair the dental or speech issues until this swallow pattern has been corrected. A speech pathologist can help with this.
So by all means, give the dummy a go, but be prepared and advocate for your baby’s speech development – they certainly don’t know to!
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