They may a parent’s answer to a crying child but a dummy or pacifier could be affecting your child’s speech development and causing health problems. A child using a dummy, regularly, beyond the age of 12 months could be more likely to struggle to develop speech sounds made the front of the mouth including p, b, t , d, s and may then need speech therapy.
The Daily Mail reported recently that Victoria Beckham has been accused of stunting her daughter’s speech and putting her teeth at risk of damage by still letting her use a dummy.
At three years old, Harper Beckham is beyond the age that most health experts would advise giving a child a pacifier. Dummies are intended to help settle a restless child at bedtime and are recommended only for small babies, as prolonged use can cause speech impairments and wonky teeth.
However some parents use them to comfort their child, or because it has become a habit.
Yesterday Mrs Beckham, 40, was pictured emerging from a shop in Los Angeles and carrying her daughter, who was sucking on her pink dummy. The toddler turned three in July and is well beyond the usual recommended cut-off point of 12 months.
Pregnancy expert Clare Byam-Cook said that Mrs Beckham was putting her daughter’s well being at risk.
Most people agree that prolonged use of the dummy can damage the teeth, by pushing them forwards and getting them misaligned. It can also affect speech development, because so many mothers stick a dummy in their toddler’s mouth just to shut the toddler up. The toddler just sits there sucking away on its dummy and doesn’t talk or do anything…If a mother allows her toddler to have a dummy in her mouth for large parts of the day, she will definitely stunt her speech development.
‘[Harper] should be looking at her surroundings and pointing things out to her mother but anything she says will be unclear because of the dummy, so she will get used to mumbling speech.’
Most experts recommend parents wean a child off dummies before their first birthday because the habit becomes harder to break as they get older and can lead to thumb-sucking, which can also damage teeth.
Harper is the youngest of Mrs Beckham’s four children with her husband, former England footballer David, 39, and is the couple’s only daughter. The pair, who married in 1999, are also parents to Brooklyn, 15, Romeo, 12, and nine-year-old Cruz.
The organisation Talking Point outlines some of the disadvantages. There are a number of disadvantages associated with the use of dummies, most of which impact upon the child’s speech and language development. The many critics of dummy use include the World Health Organisation which says that dummy use may encourage the child and mother to stop breast feeding earlier than is in the best interests of the child. Other concerns raised by various professional groups include the increased risk of:
- stomach and mouth infections;
- middle ear infections (otitis media). This is due to the fact that sucking opens the Eustachian tube, which links the nose and middle ear, and this can allow bacteria into the middle ear from the nasal area;
- dental problems such as open bite and cross bite;
- over development of the muscles at the front of the mouth compared to those at the back of the mouth which may lead to a persistent tongue thrust and further effect placement of the teeth;
- reduced babbling and experimentation with sounds. When a baby or young child has a dummy 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.
One author suggests that it is better to let a baby suck on their own fingers or hands, rather than an artificial object, as they will get more sensory feedback which is comforting, and they are more likely to stop the behaviour when they are developmentally ready.
South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust offers practical advice for parents and carers.
There is a lot of confusing advice available about the use of dummies and it is important to be aware of the range of arguments. Dummies may be useful in settling young babies and encouraging strong sucking patterns, but their specific usefulness declines after a developmental 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 dummies to infants after about one year of age, especially during the day and when they are interacting with other children and adults.
- It reduces the amount of babbling, a vital stage needed before a child can talk. Children need to practice this at all times
- Children learn words by listening to & copying adults. A dummy prevents a child from copying words & sounds back correctly.
- Many speech sounds are made at the front of the mouth (p, b, t , d, s) Regular dummy/ bottle users will struggle to develop these sounds and may then need speech therapy.
- The more a child talks with a dummy the higher the risk of needing long term speech therapy.
- A child is much less likely to talk if they have an object in their mouth.
- A Manchester study has shown that over half of all dummy users in the area werereferred for speech therapy
To develop speech, babies and young children need to explore a range of mouth movements e.g. opening and closing the mouth, smiling, sticking their tongue out. Dummies limit these movements.
Children need to learn to control saliva by closing the mouth and swallowing. Overuse of dummies & bottle sucking stops this, leading to drooling and saliva problems. This can then lead to soreness around the mouth.
Children need to be wide awake to learn, and explore. Dummies have the opposite effect by soothing & relaxing a child.
Regular dummy/bottle use can severely affect teeth development. The front teeth in particular are at higher risk of decay.
Practical ideas to help
- Give the dummy to Santa or the dummy fairy
- Swap a dummy for a reward
- Offer a comfort blanket or try reading a story instead
- Pretend to give the dummy to a friend’s baby
- Get your child to throw the dummy in the bin now they are grown up
- Once you remove the dummy, don’t be tempted to give it back