When I was pregnant, I kept myself sane while waiting for my son’s arrival by making resolutions. These resolutions were going to ensure that I would become the perfect parent, and my child a wonderfully behaved, well adjusted being. Two months into my parenting adventure and I had already broken quite a few of my ridiculous resolutions.
One of my vows was to NEVER EVER use a dummy. In my mind, pacifiers were used by parents who didn’t have the time or patience to actually ‘parent’ their child. My son had other ideas. He loved sucking anything – his shirt, my arm, or a stranger’s suspect fingers. He also suffered from severe reflux; he threw up everywhere and I resigned myself to vomit-scented shirts and sticky hair. Sleep time was especially tricky, as he aspirated the reflux, and I was in constant fear of him choking. After a particularly difficult week with the reflux and lack of sleep, my mother suggested I try a pacifier. She said she had used one for my brother and it had helped soothe the pain caused by the acid reflux.
I shamefully shuffled to my local chemist and bought an ‘orthodontic dummy’, whatever that means. The change in my son was unbelievable. He no longer cried incessantly after a reflux episode and he slept more soundly with it. Something about the action of sucking allowed him relief. I was a convert.
Like many aspects of parenting, the use of pacifiers can divide opinions. They have long been derided as habit-forming, a cause of ‘nipple confusion’ and ear infections, and damaging to teeth. New research, however, has found a correlation between the use of pacifiers and lower incidences of SIDS. This is an area in need of more research, as it is still unclear why there is a correlation. The American Academy of Paediatrics in their article Changing Concepts of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Implications for Infant Sleeping Environment and Sleep Position states that:
“. . . recent studies have reported a substantially lower SIDS incidence among infants who used pacifiers than among infants who do not. Although this association has been strong and consistent, it does not prove that pacifier use prevents SIDS. Mechanisms by which pacifiers might protect against SIDS have been proposed, such as stinting of the upper airway, but data are lacking to demonstrate that any of them are relevant to SIDS.”
Pacifiers have also been used recently to assist preterm infants. The non-nutritive sucking has been linked to easier transition to breast or bottle feeding for tube-fed infants, and shorter hospital stays, and have also proved helpful in pain relief. 1 This research remains highly controversial, and I am sure is the source of many mothers’ group disagreements.
In my own experience, the dummy has been a saviour as well as a source of anxiety. I have lost count of the times I have searched for the errant soother in the dark while my baby screams. I am also anticipating the trouble I may have when I start to wean him from this comfort-giving device. To use one or not comes down to the individual. Some kids do seem to benefit, while with others, it is unnecessary. While you contemplate your own dummy dilemma – to use or not to use – amuse yourself with some fun historical facts about this much debated device. When researching this, I came across so many ‘fascinating facts’ I had trouble choosing, but after much ado, I have restricted myself to a short list. Yes, this is my idea of fun on a sunday afternoon, hence the reason I have had books bought for me on ‘stimulating’ topics such as the history of iceboxes.
The Dummy Dilemma: Eight Historical Facts
1: In the 2nd century, the physician Soranus mentions the use of honey to soothe and pacify a child.
2: In Italy, 3000-year-old clay animals have been found in the graves of children. These were hung around the neck and were filled with honey. The baby sucked from the mouth of the vessel.
3: The first depiction of a dummy is the 1506 Madonna and Child by Albrecht Durer. It is thought that the child is holding a ‘soothing rag’, which was most likely a cloth soaked in sugar.
4: In the 18th century, the dummy was a signifier of wealth. Babies touted silver pieces created by jewellers. They were also made from gold, abalone and pearl. Some even had bells and whistles. Presumably this is where the popular phrase originated.
5: From the 17th to the 19th century in England, coral was a popular material for soothers and they were called ‘corals’. This stems from ancient Rome, where coral was associated with illness prevention and warding off the ‘evil eye’.
6: Those not blessed with the funds to purchase a dummy from precious metals often resorted to rags soaked in sugar, hard candy and honey to soothe their fractious children. Wood and old bones were also popular, as was a brandy-soaked rag!
7: Rubber teats were first manufactured in the mid 19th century. Early versions were marketed in three different colours: white, maroon and black. Alarmingly, lead was used to create the white tint.
8: In 1879, a german medical journal published a paper with accompanying photographs that claimed to link ‘pleasure sucking’ or non-nutritive sucking to weakness, sexual problems and poor disposition later in life. Nicholas Day who authored the article, Babies suck: The twisted history of pacifiers writes:
“Unbelievably, this logic carried the day. Lindner’s article is the study that launched a thousand parental nightmares. It’s the ur-text of orality — it would inspire Freud several decades later — and by the turn of the century, Lindner’s conclusion was widely accepted. . . Pacifiers were as problematic as fingers. “Remember that a baby that has a dummy is like a tiger that has tasted blood,” an English health pamphlet warned, using the British term for pacifier. A popular childcare book of the time described a typical pacifier user as “ricketty, pale, pasty, soft, wanting in bone and muscle, feeble, nervous, timid.” Taking away the pacifier was not enough. To prevent infants from sucking, parents were instructed to tie their children’s hands to their cribs, and if that didn’t work, to stuff them inside aluminium mittens”
1. Pinelli J, Symington A. Non-nutritive sucking for promoting physiologic stability and nutrition in preterm infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005;(4):CD001071
Levin S. A history of dummies. Nurs RSA 1990;5(4):17–20.