Sucking is a great means of comfort to babies

Sucking is a great means of comfort to babies

Sucking is a great means of comfort to babies and this is where the judicious use of a dummy can be of great help. The sight of a two year old with a dummy plugged into her mouth is not attractive, and dummies can be a source of infection, but if it is used with care there is no reason why your child should be denied the comfort.

Choose a dummy with a teat shaped like a flattened nipple and a large secure base so that the child cannot get half or all of it into her mouth. If the whole dummy is made of rubber it will not hurt if the child lies on it. Buy two or three so that you always have a sterilised one on hand. Prolonged boiling perishes rubber so immerse in boiling water for only three to five minutes. Dummies can be sterilised in the same chemicals you use for bottles, but if the solution becomes contaminated with thrush it is wise to buy new dummies and boil them. After you have sterilised the dummies, keep them in a clean, dry container in the fridge.

Some babies, particularly breast fed babies, are loathe to take a dummy because of its unfamiliar taste and texture but can usually be persuaded to in time. Dipping the dummy in something sweet before you give it to the baby is not a good idea, although a touch of honey or gripe water to help encourage the baby to take it in the early weeks should do no harm. Pour a little gripe water into an egg cup then discard the liquid after use so that you do not contaminate the rest of the gripe water bottle.

Don’t make a practice of dipping the dummy into the bottle as germs could multiply in the liquid, and never tie a long cord to the dummy as the child could choke on it. Often a baby who is already screaming will not take a dummy, so give it while she is still only niggling.

Sucking on a dummy relaxes the muscles of the gut so if the child is having cramps it helps ease the pain.

One of the most confusing things about interpreting your baby’s wants in the early weeks is the need for sucking comfort. You will find that she takes a bottle or breast eagerly, especially if she has been crying, with the result that you may give her a feed when sucking on a dummy will really be the answer. You will have to use your discretion about this, keeping in mind your baby’s feeding pattern and mass gain. Copious ‹“explosive’ stools can indicate overfeeding.

Regardless of whether you give your baby a dummy or not she may discover her thumb as a source of sucking comfort. Once this happens there is not very much you can do about it and you should not use any methods such as the wearing of mittens or other forms of restriction to prevent it. You may be able to persuade her to take a dummy instead of sucking her thumb, but there is not much to choose between the two. Thumb-sucking can persist for a very long time, however, even after the child has begun school, and this can add to displacement of the teeth if there is already a tendency to this in the structure of the jaw. You may also have the minor problem of a callus forming on the thumb, and you will not be able to throw it away as you might a dummy.

Dummies can be very unhygienic, even more so than thumbs, and you could end up getting up countless times a night to replace it when it falls out of her mouth. (You can pin a dummy on either side of the cot, using a short cord, and hope she will find it herself.) At least the thumb is always there. On the other hand, if you do use the dummy to get your baby over the three-month colic period and discard it as soon after this as possible, you might be able to escape thumb-sucking or a dummy problem later on. However, there is really no need at any stage to force the child to give up either habit, since pressure is likely to make the need for its comfort even greater. Tactful encouragement should be sufficient – never make it into a drama – it is not worth it to either of you. There is reason to believe that the denial of the need for sucking comfort may be harmful, and some say this is the reason why some adults smoke cigarettes!

If you are breast feeding and you allow your baby to suck for as long as she wishes, usually until she falls asleep, you will be satisfying this need easily and naturally.

Sucking provides a great and necessary source of gratification to a child, but it should never become the child’s only means of gaining comfort.

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