Soothers can be useful as they can help to soothe your baby at bedtime or when your baby is tired or upset. Studies have shown that up until the age of 12 months, using a soother while a baby is sleeping reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (also known as cot death). There are a number of disadvantages associated with the use of soothers past the age of 12 months, most of which impact upon your child’s speech and language development. Regular and extended use of a soother past the age of 12 months can lead to:
- Middle ear infections (also known as otitis media): This is due to the fact that sucking opens the Eustachian tube, which is a tube that links the nose and middle ear, and this can allow bacteria into the middle ear from the nasal area.
- Dental problems as the soother can affect the position of the teeth as they grow.
- Overdevelopment of the muscles at the front of the mouth compared to those at the back of the mouth which may lead to a tongue thrust which means the tongue sticks out between the front teeth when talking.
- Reduced babbling and experimentation with sounds. When a baby or young child has a soother in their mouth they are less likely to copy sounds adults make or to attempt to babble and play with sounds themselves. This is important in the development of speech skills.
- It is important to realise that learning to talk can be tricky so toddlers need lots of practice. A soother may discourage your toddler from chatting with you, which they need to develop to learn new words and make sentences!
Advice for Parents
There is a lot of confusing advice available about the use of soothers and it is important to be aware of the range of arguments. Soothers may be useful in settling young babies and encouraging strong sucking patterns, but their specific usefulness declines after the age of about six months. The increased risk of ear infections, dental problems and limiting of babbling and use of sounds (both of which are essential in the development of speech and language skills) are all very good reasons for not giving soothers to infants after about one year of age, especially during the day and when they are interacting with other children and adults.
Here are some tips to think about if your baby is using a soother:
- Try to wean your baby away from soothers, preferably by 12 months.
- Soothers prevent babies from babbling- an important step in learning to talk, so only use them at set times, like bedtime when they won’t be babbling or interacting with others.
- Always remove your babies soother when they are making noises, talking or playing so that they can communicate with you and their environment.
- When your baby cries they are trying to tell you something, try to find out what is upsetting them first or try to distract them instead of resorting to the soother.
- Never dip the soother in anything sweet! This leads to tooth decay.
Tips on making a clean break from the soother:
- Choose a time when you have support for a few days (e.g. at the weekend) to throw away the soother. Most babies/toddlers will be upset for no more than two or three days. Be prepared for this and try your best to not give the soother back.
- Tell your family and friends what you are doing so that they don’t give your child a soother by accident.
- You could replace the soother with a special new toy or present. You could also give the soother to Santa or the soother Fairy and say they gave your child this present as a reward.
- Prepare your child for giving up the soother before it happens so that they understand where it has gone.
Contributed, created and written by Little Voices Team.