On 27th October, 2016, 23 days after she was born, I gave BG a soother… or a “dummy” as they’re called in our household.
I felt, at the time, like an utter failure.
Prior to my baby being born, I was adamant that I was not going to use a dummy with my baby and that my baby would not been seen with one in her mouth. How I laugh at that person now. My choice wasn’t through any form of research or preconceived opinion about dummies and their use, merely that I didn’t like the idea of BG having a dummy in her mouth 24/7.
On Day 23 of her existence, it all changed!
I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed my baby. [Let me be clear on this, I was lucky because I WANTED to breastfeed my baby and I was ABLE to breastfeed my baby. How a child is fed is, quite frankly, up to the Mother – be it breast, bottle, expressed or formula milk. There will at some point in the future be a separate post on this topic, so for now, in the word’s of my favourite film “Forrest Gump”: that’s all I have to say about that.] And once my milk supply was established, BG fed regularly – and well!
BG was premature. I’ve mentioned this before, and no doubt I will mention it again. 4 weeks early. Precisely. To the day. The general advice given to mothers of prem babies is that they will need to feed more frequently than full term babies. BG fed pretty much every 2 hours. Once my milk had ‘come in’ proper and she’d worked out all the necessary skills to have a good feed, there was no stopping her. And she wanted to suckle all the time. ALL THE TIME.
As a new mum, a first time mum, a mum of a prem baby, words of the midwifery team from the hospital rang through my head… she will need to feed often, expect every 2 hours. So when BG would cry, sometimes nuzzling at me in that way that babies do when they’re searching for food, I would dutifully offer her food source and prepare to be sat for a while half dressed whilst she had her fill.
I then started to notice that actually, she wasn’t feeding, she was just using my body as comfort! Now, whilst having your baby attached to your breast develops a very special bond, it does, after a while, become quite impractical if this attachment is all the time.
SO I CAVED. I put a dummy in her mouth. On 27th October, I needed a wee, I needed to get dressed, I needed to be able to put my baby down for 10 minutes to do those things. I needed to go out to the shops, I needed to drive the car to said shops and I was not (and still am not) able to drive a car with a baby in my arms, attached to my boob (although to clarify, I’ve not attempted to do this… ever. And I never will)! I felt awful. I’d given in to a convenience. I wasn’t soothing her myself. I was somehow cheating.
Eventually, I managed to “get a grip” and gave myself a stern talking to. I was not failing. I was not cheating. In fact, it was the opposite. I was facilitating the soothing of my baby. BG was happy. She’d often spit the dummy out once she was asleep or comforted. It would not be put back in her mouth. If she did cry or become unsettled, the usual checklist of “Is she hungry?” and/or “Does her nappy need changing” would be run through first, and I would always, always comfort her myself. Dummies were only used soothing when nothing else was working or when situations required a “quick fix”. It was a last resort!
So I came to terms with my decision, and I’m sticking by it.
What I was not prepared for was the fact that apparently every single person has an opinion on dummies and their use, and also that they are entitled to share that opinion with you.
Example 1: Smelly Old Lady, a lift in a shopping centre. This ‘dear old lady’ stated bluntly, uninvited, “You shouldn’t use a dummy, you should soothe her yourself”. I politely ignored this woman and went on my way whilst inside, the bolshy non-mum me was screaming “That you for your opinion, you smelly old bint, not that I asked for it. But frankly, I’m sure you’d have more of an issue with me walking around with my tits out all day just so that my baby’s dummy doesn’t offend you”. Part of me wishes I’d actually said it to her just to see her face.
Example 2: Well meaning acquaintance. This well meaning acquaintance [details being kept deliberately obscure] stated “Oh. It’s a shame you have to use a dummy. I never had to use one with my ####”. This time, I didn’t just politely ignore, but responded politely that I didn’t HAVE to use a dummy. I CHOSE to use a dummy, before walking off to talk to a more civilised human being.
Much of my mothering life is spent internally shouting “My baby, my choice” at supposedly well-meaning commentators. I do wonder why it is people feel the need to constantly judge new mums? Where is the benchmark? No one has ever shared it with me and I’m quite a competitive person who always wants to do her best so if there is some form of grading system, I want to know about it! I can almost understand people you know asking a new mum a simple question about her choices, but then in general, it is easier to tell a family-friend or relative to shove-off than it is a complete stranger. I don’t understand why complete strangers feel it ok to pass comment on the choices mums make. BG isn’t sat with a dummy constantly in her mouth. The vast majority of the time, she doesn’t have one! Occasionally she will find one she stashed in the toy box and sneak it into her mouth – and that’s fine, it’s soon replaced with something else more interesting to chew… like a shoe. We will almost certainly use a dummy on a long car journey… because it helps her to fall asleep and we therefore have a long car journey with a sleeping, rather than screaming baby. We use a dummy to help with the bedtime routine after a bottle to help BG fall asleep – it will almost certainly be spat out after around an hour of her being asleep and it is only returned to her mouth by us if she begins to cry in the night! We will use a dummy on occasions where the usual ‘arsenal’ of soothing “please stop crying” techniques have run out!
Here I am again, justifying my choices… but why is it that mums are made to feel like they need to do this? Because every Tom, Dick and Harry feels that they have the right to judge and pass comment against the invisible grading system that exists for new mums… and really, this needs to stop.
A mum-friend of mine had the opposite experience and was told she should give her baby a dummy… but said baby would not take a dummy! The response from the commentator? “Oh, well mine always had one, it’s very strange yours won’t.” It would seem that whatever choice is made by a mum, someone, somewhere will decide that it’s the wrong one.
The dummy debate rages on all the time. I’ve read a few articles in relation to dummies ready to be able to include on this post, and no one article has exactly the same advice. I have to say that La Leche League GB has one of the more balanced articles (https://www.laleche.org.uk/dummies-and-breastfeeding/) on the topic, but there is still an undertone of “only use a dummy sparingly…” or “only use it as a last resort…” (in my humble, slightly-defensive opinion anyway). I have read the information available, I have made an educated decision and I will offer my child a dummy. For how much longer I’m not sure… but for the time being it’s working! If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!
Perhaps it’s time to stop stifling the inner mum and start shouting “My Baby, My Choice” loudly and proudly! If you’ve got a dummy-related comment made by a “well-meaning” observer, please do share!