One sleep association that can cause a lot of sleep disturbances is the dummy. Some babies who love their dummies won’t be able to go off to sleep without it and then often, they wake a lot overnight because the dummy falls out and you end up getting up numerous times to pop that dummy back in. No one gets any sleep!
I call the dummy your “frenemy”. You love it at times but you also hate it! It can be a great tool when a baby is very young – say from about 2 weeks. Some babies really like to suck and so sucking the dummy calms and settles them so they go off to sleep without too much difficulty. It is also a great tool to help a baby settle well after a feed and to go back to sleep if they are catnapping during the day.
Babies who struggle with reflux or tummy issues can also find the dummy very soothing as sucking can help settle reflux and reduce the discomfort your baby might feel.
When a baby is very young, the dummy doesn’t often cause too many problems. Babies use the dummy to calm and soothe themselves so that they are relaxed enough to be able to go off to sleep. Once they have fallen into their deep sleep, they spit the dummy out and continue to sleep on.
However, around four or five months of age this all changes as the baby becomes more and more dependent on the dummy. They need to suck to help them transition through sleep cycles and ultimately stay asleep. The sucking is now a very strong sleep association. When they come out of one sleep cycle and the dummy is not in their mouth they will wake up and cry because they now feel they need to suck the dummy to go back to sleep.
As babies get older these sleep associations get worse, and I often see babies who are so addicted to the dummy they are waking up many, many times overnight. This can often affect the day sleeping too and many dummy addicted babies will only sleep for one sleep cycle during the day, meaning they are constantly overtired and not getting enough sleep.
Removing the dummy can be tricky but getting a baby used to sleeping with it can happen in as little as three days.
Felix was ten months old and waking up to nine times a night. The day sleeps were not so good either with Felix only sleeping 40 to 45 minutes at each sleep. Felix’s parents were anxious about making any changes and removing something they had all really become quite dependent upon, however everyone was so very sleep deprived they were willing to try anything!
On night one Felix was put down to sleep without his dummy. He was confused by this and expressed this frustration by crying. His mum stayed with him the whole time soothing him and patting him. Surprisingly it only took about 20 minutes to get him off to sleep – the first time he had ever gone to sleep without the dummy!
Felix then slept for longer than he had ever slept before without waking – four hours! After this long sleep, he had plenty of energy and so getting him back to sleep at this next wake took a bit longer. He really wanted that dummy and made little sucking noises with his lips like he was trying to suck something, anything! Every now and then he would calm and almost be asleep, he would then look for something to suck and realise there was no dummy. He wasn’t happy about that so he started to cry again.
It took some doing but after about 90 minutes Felix finally settled and calmly went back to sleep. He then slept till about 4am, it then took his parents about 10 minutes to settle and then he slept through to morning. His day sleeps the next day also went so much better than they had and he had slept longer than one sleep cycle for each sleep. Although it had taken a bit longer for him to go off to sleep initially, once he was asleep, he slept soundly.
Night two was much better; he woke a couple more times than the first night but settled each time in less than 10 minutes. The third night he slept through! His parents were shocked at how quickly he got over his attachment to the dummy. He hasn’t looked back and has slept well, both day and night since.
Felix’s story is a very common one. Some babies don’t have any problems with using the dummy at night, they sleep with it in their mouth or not. But others really struggle. If you are getting up to put that dummy back in for your baby, more than once overnight, then it is a problem.