“I’ll never give my baby a dummy,” I used to think. I would look at babies and toddlers with dummies and silently judge the parents. It’ll affect his speech, I thought. It’s unnatural, I told myself. Babies who have dummies will never learn to sleep without them, I decided. It’ll affect how his teeth grow, his communication, his ability to breast-feed…
Then I had a baby.
I don’t think I was particularly judgey-pants as a first time mother. I believe that what works for you is the way forward – happier baby, happier mum. So, while I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed, I totally supported my friends who bottle-fed, and envied them as they weren’t restricted to very accessible clothing. Ben had a bottle from about 3 weeks old as I was keen to have the flexibility of expressing or giving formula if I wanted to. Equally, although I really didn’t want to co-sleep, and found it made me feel quite anxious on the few times we tried it, I know that for other people, it’s brilliant. I didn’t really get on with carrying Ben in a sling last time, but I’m very keen to try it more this time.
But the dummy? I put the largest judgey-pants on that I could find.
Like most babies, Ben found it hard to get to sleep, especially during the day. We were very lucky at night – he would usually wake up, feed and then go back to sleep, with very little fussing. But before he was 4 weeks old, I was reaching breaking point. He didn’t want to sleep, or be cuddled, or be swaddled… He just wanted to feed. Some days, I felt like I fed him all day long.
After the feeding came the vomiting. This wasn’t just a bit of posseting; this was full on throwing up what seemed to be whole feeds. It didn’t seem to bother him, or cause him any pain, and he gained weight steadily and followed his line on his growth chart. But it was a real inconvenience. He would get through several changes of clothes a day, as would I, and our sofa, floors and even walls would bear the tell-tale streaks of baby sick.
My grandmother, who had 9 children, spotted the reason: “Your mummy is over-feeding you,” she declared to an 8 week old Ben. Nonsense, I thought. You can’t over-feed a breastfed baby. And I had heard about my grandmother’s parenting strategy, which was typical of the 1950s and 60s: feed the baby every 4 hours, no more, and leave them outside in the pram in all weathers. (“Except fog,” she later told me, “it’s bad for their chests.”)
I carried on, feeding on demand, and started putting Ben upstairs in his Moses basket for daytime sleeps. This was when I invested in a dummy. Ignoring all my previous judgements, with the desperation of a new mum, I bought 2 MAM dummies.
The dummy became a sleep-cue for Ben, and he started having longer sleeps in the day. Then I started using it more at night. I only ever used it for sleep, as I still had my hang-ups about it. The vomiting continued, and I continued feeding on demand, still overwhelmed by the amount of washing. But he wasn’t in pain, and continued to grow, so I just thought he was a sicky baby.
When Ben was about 4 months old, and after about 2 months of dummy use, we came to the next challenge: instead of falling asleep and spitting his dummy out, as he had done, Ben started waking up every time he lost his dummy. Convinced that the dummy was a problem, we took it away. I fed him a bit more for a couple of days, but then came the miracle: he discovered his thumb.
Ben then sucked his thumb all the time. He sucked his thumb when he was tired, he sucked his thumb when he was sad, he sucked his thumb just for something to do. Overnight, he became a much easier, happier baby. While other parents were despairing about how to get their child to sleep, I was so grateful that he had discovered his thumb, as that was all it took. He stopped feeding so much, and became less sick, although he was still a bit sick, but it was much more normal amounts.
I am convinced that sucking was a huge comfort for Ben. Before the discovery of his thumb, he would feed, not because he was hungry or needed the milk, but because he wanted the comfort of sucking. The dummy would have alleviated this, if I had let him have it more. The dummy worked at sleep times, because he needed the comfort of sucking to get to sleep. Before 4 months, he didn’t have the co-ordination to find his thumb and put it in his mouth.
I’m not saying that the dummy or thumb solved all our problems – we still struggled with sleep, and had to train Ben not to feed at night. There were so many days when I just didn’t know what was wrong with him, as nothing seemed to make him happy. But I do wish I had used the dummy more, especially in those early days.
Of course, the use of a dummy does then raise issues with how you wean your child off the dummy, ideally before they are two. This is more difficult if your child sucks his thumb – you can’t take a thumb away in the same way as a dummy. But we found nature solved us that problem: when he was about 18 months old, Ben got hand, foot and mouth at nursery. Both his thumb and his mouth were so sore that he stopped sucking his thumb. We had a few nights where he was more unsettled, but he quickly learned to settle himself to sleep. Of course, there’s a huge amount of difference between a 4 month old and an 18 month old, so we had different strategies for dealing with it.
With baby no. 2 due in 2 weeks, I’ve already bought some dummies.
I think this Baby Centre webpage has some excellent advice on the use of dummies: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a565731/dummies-and-pacifiers