Can prolonged use of dummies affect speech development? (guest post)

January 23, 2013

Following last week’s debate about dummies, Nikki Heyman, a blogger, mom and speech and hearing therapist, has written a post on whether dummies affect speech development after prolonged use. Nikki blogs at Talking Talk, and it’s worthwhile following it – there are informative and helpful posts for parents on speech-related issues, plus great apps for development and learning. Nikki’s post on how to get your kids to talk about school is a must-read – you can find it here.

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“All babies are born with the desire to suck. Nutritive sucking provides nourishment so the baby can grow. Non-nutritive sucking provides pleasure as well as calms the baby.

The swallow pattern that babies have is NOT the same as an adult swallow pattern. It is called a “reverse swallow” or tongue thrust. The baby’s tongue pushes forward toward his gums. So when you are feeding a baby pureed food. The baby’s tongue pushes forward, pushing some of the food back out of his mouth. The adult scoops the food off his lips and face with the spoon and puts it back in his mouth and the cycle continues. As babies mature, they learn, not only to keep their lips closed when they swallow, but to effectively move the food back toward the throat with a more mature swallow.

Some babies don’t take a dummy (pacifier) and some parents are vehemently against giving the dummy because they don’t want their child to rely on the dummy. For others, it is a Godsend.

The reason some babies take to the dummy and some don’t is often because of your child’s personality and has nothing to do with parenting.

Prolonged use of the dummy can affect speech development but in my opinion, thumb sucking is worse because you cannot throw your child’s thumb away.

A couple of things to be aware of if your child has a dummy

When to give the dummy?

– Don’t use the dummy as a “plug” to keep the baby quiet. It is important that babies are given the opportunity to babble and make noises from when they are very young as these are precursors to reciprocal communication.

– Don’t substitute the dummy for food. If you are trying to introduce the dummy, giving it to a tired, hungry baby will result in the dummy having negative connotations for the baby and he will most likely spit it out rather than using it to soothe.

When to take the dummy away?

I have heard many parents saying that they have “never seen a grade one child with a dummy and they will get rid of it when they are ready.” Unfortunately, this is not always true. Babies tend to lose their natural sucking urge around the age of 6 months. Use of the dummy after this age becomes habitual. Try to use to just before sleep get rid of it completely by 18 months to 2 years of age.

How can the dummy affect speech development?

In the short term dummy &/or thumb sucking should not have a significant effect on the development of the oral muscles, relationship of the teeth and speech development. However prolonged use of the dummy (and bottle) perpetuates the infantile swallow pattern.

The tongue is a very strong muscle. If it is pressing against the front teeth during thousands of swallows a day, it can cause orthodontic problems as well as a lisp associated with the tongue thrust. (See the article on Talking Talk about lisps).

A word of caution: Many parents discard the bottle and/or dummy in favor of a “sippy cup” (especially the totally spill proof ones that have a stopper and the only way to drink is to suck). BUT, maintaining a sucking pattern while drinking interferes with the development of adult swallow patterns and muscle development necessary for correct speech production.

Irrespective of whether you choose to use the dummy or not, prolonged use has been linked to

– Dental problems

– Increased ear infections

– Speech problems

As with every modern convenience – moderation is the key.”



Feature image via Parentwellbeing

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