New report says benefits of soothers are still not fully understood by parents

Soother, dodo, or dummy? Whatever you prefer to call them, new research* from the baby experts at NUK shows that almost three quarters (73%) of parents in Ireland use them for their babies.

But it seems that aside from providing comfort for the baby, and helping babies to sleep, some of the important benefits of soothers are still not fully understood by parents. Just 6.5% realise that oral development and assisting in latch development are key reasons to use a soother for their baby, and less than 1% recognise speech development as a benefit.

The NUK Ireland Soother Report published this week reveals the relationship that parents have with soothers, outlines HSE recommendations as well as clinician studies on soother use, and presents expert opinions from respected professionals, Emma O’Leary, Speech & Language Therapist, and Emily Kelly, Superintendent Pharmacist at McCauley Health and Beauty Pharmacy Group, who share their own personal experiences of using soothers with their babies as well as advice for other parents.

The report is designed to educate and inform parents when deciding whether to use a soother.

Expert insights

Emma O’Leary, a contributor to the report, Speak & Language Therapist and mother of three, says: “Babies feel a natural urge to suck and a soother is a useful aid for relaxing your baby. While your baby sucks, it is training its muscles and perfecting the coordination between the jaw, palate, tongue, and lips. When baby sucks, it helps to support breathing, eating and speech development.

“Whilst I am very pro-soother use, however, the most important thing about soothers is knowing when to let them go, why the timing is so important, and crucially how to go about it. If a child is learning to speak with a soother in their mouth, their speech sounds can often become distorted as they don’t have full control of the muscles in their mouth used for speech.”

She recommends phasing out daytime use first before taking it away completely, and limiting soother usage to set times, such as naps and bedtime, after 6 months.

Emily Kelly, Superintendent Pharmacist, McCauley Health and Beauty Pharmacy, and mother of two, says: “My first son was premature, so the soother was so important. He was being fed via nasogastric (NG) tube and the soother is how you teach the suck reflex in premature babies. In fact, with both my boys we wouldn’t have survived without one!”

Why soothe?

Every baby enters the world with an innate need to suck. It not only makes sure they can get their precious breast milk, it also calms them too. For many children breastfeeding alone is not enough to soothe them, so a soother can help.

But there are other reasons to support soother usage. Evidence suggests that using them in older infants at nap times and bedtime is associated with a decrease in the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), or Cot Death as it is sometimes more commonly known. In addition, there are benefits to using soothers in preterm babies in order to assist in developing the suck reflex. And in cases where the mother isn’t available to breastfeed, for example where a sick infant is in ICU being tube fed, a soother can help calm and de-stress the baby and assist in oral development.

Dr Laura Lenihan, GP, comments: “In recent years more and more research seems to suggest that giving your baby a soother at night-time may reduce their risk of cot death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This growing body of evidence shows that soothers cut SIDS risk, even though we don’t know what causes it (SIDS) or how soothers might help. As parents all we want to do is protect our children, and this is one extra tool we can have in our armour to protect against SIDS.”

According to the NUK research, 9 out of 10 parents think it is better for a child to suck on a soother than their thumb.

Mervyn Connaughton, a Baby Expert with NUK for 21 years, and dad of two, explains the difference: “Soothers are softer and more flexible than a thumb. A soother with an intelligent teat shape such as NUK, unlike a thumb, promotes the healthy development of the mouth and reduces the risk of teeth misalignment. In general, it is easier to stop using a soother too because you don’t always have it to hand.”

The HSE recommends regular soother use as the best way for babies to use a soother. The simple guidelines, should you choose to give your baby a soother, are:

  • Offer the soother to your baby at the start of every sleep, both day and night
  • Do not force your baby to use a soother if your baby does not like it
  • Do not worry if the soother falls out while your baby is asleep
  • If you're breastfeeding, wait until this is well-established before introducing a soother
  • Do not use clips or chains to attach soother to clothing (when baby is laid down to sleep) as this is a choking risk
  • Keep soothers clean and never dip them in sugar, honey or other food and drinks

*The NUK Ireland Soother research was conducted between 17th and 19th February 2020.