Dilemmas: Should baby suck a dummy?

Sheila's baby cries all the time, and is only comforted by a dummy. But her mother-in-law says it'll deform the baby's teeth, her husband says it looks awful, and Sheila herself has heard that dummies are a health hazard. What should she do?


Fashions in bringing up babies change like hemlines. In 1910 Sir Truby King recommended that to stop thumb-sucking, the best plan was to put the babies' arms in splints of corrugated cardboard. In 1970 a Mrs Frankenburg wrote that the "continuous sucker of a dummy is fortunate if he does not become a chain-smoker, a drunkard or a drug-addict". (Personally I would have thought it was the other way round, that those who don't have things to suck on need sucky things in later life.) In 1975 Dr Hugh Jolly said he would prefer a baby who requires extra sucking to do it the natural way - "by sucking his thumb".

These days most baby books are perfectly easy about dummies, and thumb- sucking. But the bang-up-to-date research on dummies is confusing. It shows that the sucking promotes more saliva, which prevents plaque building up, and that there's no problem with teeth as long as children stop sucking dummies before six years old. Other research shows that dummy-suckers tended to have more infections than other babies, but needless to say no one has sorted out whether this is because dummies tend to be used in families where mothers are young, broke and poorly educated, and smoke.

So there you have it. Sheila's mind is probably boggling.

But there's a bigger issue here, about taking advice when you're bringing up children. It seems to me that Sheila knows perfectly what's right for her baby. The dummy soothes it and comforts it. But her intuitive motherly feelings have been undermined by two people who clearly don't have the baby's emotional interests at heart.

First, her mother-in-law, who can hardly know the baby as well as Sheila and who seems more concerned with the baby's looks than with its emotional welfare. Even if the teeth theory were true, which it isn't, better a buck-toothed baby full of beans than a perfect misery with a perfect mouth. Second, Sheila's husband, who seems to have inherited his mother's obsession with looks, says that dummies look awful. Most face-furniture does. But he surely wouldn't suggest his child stop wearing glasses, if it had to later, just on the grounds of vanity? I suspect class comes into all this. My mother never gave me a dummy because she said they were "common". But babies, thank God, have no class distinctions. If they can't find their thumbs, they often want a dummy when they're miserable.

Children aren't furniture kits from Ikea. There are no instructions a mother can follow, except her own gut feelings. When Sheila asks for advice, she knows the answer. She wants reassurance that her own instinctive feelings are right. So my advice is to trust her own judgement.

"Expert advice will not aid a parent unless he has the appropriate inner experiences," wrote the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim. "Such advice may even prevent him from engaging in the laborious task of discovering the causes of his child's difficulties, and in the process discovering things about his own life and being which bring him that much closer to his child and the child to him. The right inner experience ...will reveal how superficial and impersonal even the best advice is when applied to a complex situation caused by highly personal feelings."


A dummy is the answer

Before I had my first baby, I too despised the "common" dummy. However, within two weeks of putting my bundle of joy on the breast every two hours, I had succumbed.

Yes, they do look awful, but so do new mums with bags under the eyes and nursing bras left undone "to save time".

Two babies later I was still converted. Teeth are straight, unlike mine and my brother's, (our mother looked down on dummies, so we sucked thumb and forefinger respectively). You can throw away a dummy when a baby is 18 months old; unfortunately you cannot throw away thumbs, and they can stay planted into the teens.


Isleworth, Middlesex

They're better than thumbs

I sucked my thumb until I was about 13 or 14, and found it extraordinarily hard to break the habit - my thumb, after all, was on the end of my hand, and always accessible, so I often sucked it without being even conscious of my actions. I am now, at 42, still undergoing dental treatment (private and expensive) to put right dental defects.

My youngest daughter had a dummy. It pacified her and turned her from a screaming, irritable baby into a contented, calm little girl. When she was about two-and-a-half, we told her that her dummy had "gone on holiday", sent her a couple of postcards to that effect, and that was the end of that! How many 12-year-olds do you see still sucking a dummy?


Just sterilise it!

I understand that the latest advice is that thumb-sucking is worse for teeth than a dummy, and that neither is a disaster as long as it doesn't continue for too long. Properly sterilised, a dummy is no worse and indeed a good deal better than most other things that will find their way into your baby's mouth.


Preston, Lancashire

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My girlfriend read a book on relationships and we decided to be more honest with each other. I told her about two girls I'd had long affairs with and loved, in the past. She told me she still felt a bit in love with her old boyfriend, which really upset me. She also said she didn't think I had a sense of humour. I told her that although I loved her, I wished she'd lose weight. Obviously we told each other good things as well, but my girlfriend is still hurt about my past affairs. The idea was to make us feel closer, but we're further apart. I feel stupid that we took advice from a book, and confused about honesty. How honest should you be?

Yours sincerely, Dennis

Anyone with advice quoted will be sent a bouquet from .Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail dilemmas@independent.co. uk, giving a postal address for a bouquet

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?