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Childcare experts discusss the value of dummies at conference.

Experts cannot agree on whether using dummies to calm fretful infants is safe or a potential health risk, according to a Midland researcher.

Recent Department of Health guidelines suggested dummies could help to reduce the risk of cot death.

But a study to be presented at the British Educational Research Association conference in London today found widespread anxiety among childcare staff about using dummies.

Dummies have been used in many countries for more than 1,000 years but they have also been linked to malformed teeth, speech impairment, glue ear and other infections.

Dr Judy Whitmarsh, from the University of Wolverhampton, said the evidence was not conclusive. "Dummies are often demon-ised by health professionals, yet there are potential benefits at that age," she said.

"It is when dummies are used as a plug to 'shut a child up' that they become harmful."

Her research found that experts were also divided on the age at which dummy use should be stopped. Some said ten months, others would allow it until a child is four.

The Department of Health has offered guarded support for dummy use with babies.

"It is possible that using a dummy at the start of any sleep period reduces the risk of cot death," according to DoH guidelines.

But many childcare staff are anxious, with some nurseries only allowing dummies at sleep time. Dr Whitmarsh questioned more than 80 managers and staff in five children's centres and three private day nurseries in the West Midlands.

She found that they all had strategies for limiting dummy use, including asking youngsters to remove the dummy while talking and offering individual storage pots.

"What was striking was the variation between settings and, in some cases, the ambivalence and anxiety felt by the managers about using dummies," she said.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Article Type:Conference news
Date:Sep 6, 2007
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