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?

VIRGINIA'S ADVICE

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."

READERS' SUGGESTIONS

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.

FIONA CARRIVICK

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?

ALEX CARLYLE-PRICE

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.

KIM MOLNAR

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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee