Most parents seem to fall into one of two camps. There are those who, based on their experience of giving their child a dummy, tend to believe they are God-sends for newborn babies and their sleep-deprived parents. Then there are those who feel that dummies are practically of the devil, and to blame for everything from language delay to buck teeth and probably teenage delinquency, too.
Well, I've been asked to tell you why I'm in the 'dummies are brilliant' camp, and one of my lovely PlayPennies colleagues is going to tell you why she disagrees.
So let's start with the fact that no parent actively wants their child to suck a dummy. A quick straw poll of Mums shows that every single one of them hated dummies before their children were born, and had no intention of introducing one to their babies. And every single one of them had introduced a dummy to their baby before he or she was even a week old.
Why? Because we've all seen a six-year-old child wandering about the supermarket with a dummy in its mouth, or struggled to understand a word said by a child clearly too old to need a dummy. And that leads us to conclude that dummies must be addictive and that giving one to a baby will result in a child becoming dependent on one, which can only lead to other addictions and problems. I can just see the headlines now: DUMMIES – ONE SUCK AWAY FROM CRACK COCAINE?
There's also the old competitive-parenting thing. Even those of us who like to think we're not sucked in (sorry) by all that still can’t help caring what other people think of our children, and how they reflect on us as parents. So the thought that people will think badly of us if our child is sucking on a dummy at the age of six is enough to put most of us off dummies altogether, and have us vowing that no child of ours will ever need a piece of plastic with which to soothe itself.
As Mums, we also like to think that there’s no substitute for our role in our childrens’ lives, and the idea that we can’t soothe every cry or ease every issue ourselves is another reason why lots of us intend, at least in the beginning, to forego dummies altogether.
And then. A new baby comes crashing into our world, quite literally kicking and screaming, and no amount of rocking, feeding, cuddling or cooing will stop that child crying or fussing or just waking every three minutes despite having a full tummy, cosy blankets, and no discernible reason to be distressed. So at some point, often in the wee small hours of the night after several consecutive sleepless nights you crack open the emergency supply of dummies that some well-meaning relative gave you, which you threw in the back of a drawer. Or worse still, as happened to a friend of mine, you dispatch the Proud Father to the all-night corner shop at silly o'clock to buy any old dummy in the hope that it will give you all some respite.
And then. Quiet descends. Possibly for the first time in days. Your baby's instinctive sucking reflex is satiated and he or she is soothed off to sleep while you worry about whether you've started him or her on the slippery slope to delinquency, and marvel with a touch of horror at the now striking similarity between your beautiful offspring and Maggie from The Simpsons. But you sleep. Your world is restored to order and you wake up a convert; convinced that dummies are The Best Inventions Ever.
Or at least, that’s pretty much what happened to me. I had what the baby books call ‘a sucky baby’ and while I initially harboured romantic ideas of cuddling and feeding him on demand 24 hours a day, that wore thin after 3 nights of being woken approximately every seven minutes.
The dummy was an instant hit and yes, I felt guilty at first and dreaded having that kid who would still be wandering around with one several years after learning to walk but you know what? Within three months he had weaned himself off the dummy altogether but in that time the dummy helped him settle and soothe himself and enabled us all to get into a manageable routine, with enough sleep to actually enjoy those precious days.
A sucky baby will happily feed constantly but not because he’s hungry, just because his sucking reflex is so strong. Feed a sucky baby every time he wakes and you end up with a milky mess, a crying baby, and still no sleep. It’s a recipe for disaster. A dummy, especially if used only at night or in the cot, can help break that cycle that can so easily spiral into despair.
I’ve heard all the arguments against dummies, and, joking aside, I’ve taken them seriously. But so far none of them hold weight because I’m a firm believer in the old adage that the best baby expert is its Mum. Or Dad, of course. Dummies worked for my kids. They don’t have speech development problems or dental issues (and by the way, you get orthodontic teats these days to help prevent dummies impacting on mouth development) and they both weaned themselves off their dummies as their newborn sucking reflex naturally waned. Arguing against dummies on the basis that they’re addctive props that replace the role a Mother should have is as ridiculous to me as saying that a newborn baby with a strong startle reflex shouldn’t be swaddled. Even though swaddling is proven to help babies sleep and settle, and I’ve yet to meet a six year old who can’t get to sleep without being immobilized in a blanket.
Most parents will have heard about the research that suggests that dummies can play a part in helping to prevent cot death. Now this isn’t the forum to debate that and let me be clear, my dummy-love is based firmly on my positive experience of using them with my babies, not on this research.
I appreciate that to some extent the cot death connection is a bit of propaganda that the dummy manufacturers must love. But it also probably helps salve the conscience of some of us mums who initially felt guilty about ‘resorting’ to dummies, and that’s no bad thing in my book. Mums feel far too guilty about far too much and I’ll support anything that helps ease that.
The thing about parenting is it’s all to easy to get prescriptive about what parents ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do and the anti-dummy brigade get my goat because what do they know about my kid? I’m his mother, I have an instinct and I’m not afraid to use it. Even when that means caving when it comes to dummies. You don’t have to like it, or agree but I’m not canvassing for anyone’s opinion, I’m just saying that as far as I’m concerned, if used wisely, dummies rock.