The great dummy debate
Feeling guilty about giving your baby a dummy? Michelle D Souza finds it’s not as bad as it seems.
The baby had been suckling on me for over an hour now. I was starting to get tired. Really tired. I knew he wasn’t drinking any milk but he just wouldn’t let go. “This is what they must call comfort sucking,” I told myself. All that advice about how this is great for mummy-baby bonding, helps avoid baby’s teething problems, and my dad’s instructions on ‘how not to cheat the baby with something artificial’ (as in a bottle or a dummy) somehow started to seem hazy.
“Hun, do we have a dummy at home?” I asked my husband with a tinge of hope in my voice. “Didn’t someone gift us one?”
That was the day. That was the day I blessed the man who invented the dummy. And I have never looked back since.
Like any Google-savvy expectant mum, I spent lots of time researching the pros and cons of dummy use, amongst other things. The more I read about it, the more I thought it could be done without. I mean, I hadn’t even seen the need for a dummy back in the day with my younger siblings. It just seemed like something unnecessary to me. A new fad. A passing trend. A well-marketed toy.
But something in those sleep-deprived, exhaustion-filled hours of the night just called out for it.
‘Maybe just this once,’ I thought. ‘Does it work on crying babies? Will he even take it?’.
And then there it was. That blissful silence, followed by the joy of watching my little one sleep. Happy. Comforted. Calm.
Do not force a dummy if baby doesn’t want it.
Do not use a dummy to replace or delay feeds.
Do not tie dummies to the cot or around baby’s neck.
Do not use a dummy to quieten baby’s babbling, which encourages speech.
I soon realised that so-called “non-nutritive sucking” is a common habit amongst newborns. Babies find an unexplained comfort in sucking on something; whether it’s you, their fingers or even their blanket. Some babies do it more often than others, and being held in Mum’s warmth is even better.
In fact, before Christian W Meinecke patented the first “baby comforter” in 1901 in the US, non-nutritive sucking had seen many an odd solution. Rag-bags filled with brandy, wood-bead necklaces, gum sticks, and corals attached to rattles were just some of the popular items used back then. But with the entrance of the dummy and its evolving developments over the years (from rubber to plastic, and finally, silicone nipples in 2001), instead of a welcomed response, it somehow still gets a bad rap.
My first undisturbed sleep in weeks had me convinced that the dummy was the greatest invention to date for new mums. However, I quickly noticed that it divides most parents whose reasons span historical, cultural and health-related perspectives. Some of the things I heard were: ‘Our parents never used one so why should we?’, ‘It’s good to use one, with research suggesting a reduced risk of SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome]’ or ‘It’s just what everyone in our society does’. Not surprisingly, I found that babies’ dependency on dummies and teeth deformations were the biggest black marks in the no-dummy camp.
Anj Dickson, mum of one-year-old Taylor, decided not to give him a dummy at all. “I have to admit that my decision was probably influenced by the fact that my sister went down the dummy route with my niece. She was a solo mum from six months and I think that she used it to get some time to herself. By the time my niece was two, she was firmly attached to her dummy. It took close to nine months for my sister to wean her off. I swore that I would never go down that route because it was a really heartbreaking process for my niece.”
No-dummy parents find creative ways to cope when baby wants to comfort suck or is being difficult. First and foremost, that’s offering the breast. “I do say that, sometimes, I am like a human pacifier. And I don’t mind it one bit,” Anj says. “It really only happens at times when Taylor is either upset, teething or unwell, so it isn’t that much of an issue.”
While these ideas work well for some, it may not always be the case for other mums – myself included. Sometimes the dummy can also be
quite the lifesaver for a mum who has spent hours struggling to calm her child or savour a few moments of silence. Nonetheless, many mums feel guilty if they eventually have to give their baby a dummy – like they’ve failed to be a good parent somehow.
Claire, mum of four-month-old Lucy, admits the dummy has been a huge help to herself and husband, Gary*, as first-time parents, especially in the first few weeks. “With Lucy’s difficult sleep patterns and loud crying, it got to the point where our midwife actually recommended it!” Claire recalls. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. Thank goodness,’ because it had crossed my mind but I didn’t want to think I was a bad mum if I did that.”
Claire, like many mums, gives Lucy a dummy only at set times to avoid her getting attached to it. “She doesn’t have it in all day. She has it in when she goes to bed but usually pops it out pretty quickly,” she says. Claire also says she feels less guilty about using a dummy knowing that Lucy is such a comfort sucker. “At least now I can take the dummy away but if she was sucking her thumb that would be a much harder habit to break.”
Another positive in the dummy department is that current research suggests that routine dummy use may reduce the risk of SIDS owing to baby’s sleeping position, lower arousal threshold, protection of the airway and reduction of reflux.
As for the dreaded dependency on dummies, most baby sleep consultants in New Zealand recommend that dummies are best used (if at all) for smaller babies, and suggest weaning off babies from their dummy, gradually, at around 3-4 months.
Emma Purdue, director and founder of Baby Sleep Consultants Ltd, says, “Dummies used even intermittently after 12 weeks very easily become a little habit. A great way to ensure your baby rejects the dummy after 12 weeks is to not buy the bigger size up.”
For mums of older babies and toddlers, it’s easy enough to wean them off dummies with tips from mums who share what’s worked best for them (see tips box). If all else fails, set a date, clear your calendar for three to five days and take the dummy away completely. It may be a tough week, but totally worth it. With my son, I just didn’t upgrade to the next dummy size.
* Names changed upon request
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