Ditching the dummy… for dummies
We know the dummy can elicit strong reactions from parents. Some swear by it comforting newborns, reducing the risk of SIDS, encouraging independent sleep and ultimately saving a lot of sleep deprivation. Whilst others refuse to even entertain the idea, concerned about dependence, bacteria and speech development. I was in the latter group.
Oh yes, before I had my daughter, I knew exactly how I would parent my children. I was the best non-parent-parent you could imagine. I had a long list of things I would never do… I would never let my child play with my phone; I would never scoop the food out of their bib and re-feed it to them; I would never feed them processed baby snacks, or chocolate or white bread. But most of all I was convinced I would never give them a dummy.
Then I became a parent in real life and suddenly I got it. All of a sudden my well behaved, perfectly parented hypothetical child was very real and very loud and very awake!
So I gave her a dummy.
At first, every time I gave it to her I was filled with resentment and frustration, it made me feel like I was being a lazy parent and failing as a mother unable to comfort her myself. I was picturing her becoming dependent and dreading future arguments over weaning her off. But it helped. She was sleeping better, which meant I was sleeping better! After a while, it became part of her bedtime routine helping her settle to sleep and instantly calming her down. So we accepted our fate, and embraced the dummy. Bedtime no longer took 3 hours with crying and questioning, the dummy had given my husband and I our evenings back. We hit a snag, however, like a lot parents, when it would fall out of our daughter’s mouth and we had to get up to put it back in. It was okay in the beginning because it was better than the alternative, but quickly became a new disruption. On the advice of a friend, we bought a Sophie la girafe comforter that came complete with a ‘velcro fastener to hold baby’s dummy [as well as] a pocket for secure, hygienic storage.’ (Sophie la girafe Baby Comforter - Soft Plush Toy with Soother Holder: Amazon.co.uk: Baby) It was brilliant, we called it Selfie (because she could do it herself!) and you know what… Selfie was there for us. She became a staple of my daughter’s sleep situation and all was right with the world.
The general advice is to ditch the dummy before six months old before babies get too attached. But still traumatised by the sleep deprivation of our recent past, I was hesitant to mess with the system that was working so well. Beginning my infant sleep consultant training I confessed my dirty little secret with a preamble of whys but I was pleasantly surprised that my tutor was completely understanding and reassuring. She reiterated how useful they can be and that at eight months, my daughter was still young enough to ditch it without too much fuss.
“As long as you do it before she’s a year old!” she said.
So my daughter’s first birthday came and went and Selfie was still a much loved member of the family. Given my continued recovery from post natal depression, starting up my own business, my return to work from maternity leave (to a hospital with covid no less!) and coping with the general pandemiciness of life at the time I felt entirely justified in avoiding upsetting the status quo at bedtime. So life went on and we saw in the new year with a solid 12 hours of sleep all round- me, my husband and our daughter all thanks to Selfie and her dummy!
One nap time I tried to leave Selfie on the side to see how my daughter would react. I think it took less than 14seconds for the regret to hit! My daughter screamed and it instantly raised a panic in me that I didn’t feel strong enough to handle that day. So I gave her Selfie and decided to wait a while before trying again. I knew from my sleep consultant training that caving in was a form of intermittent reinforcement that would teach my child that if she screams loud enough, she gets what she wants because sometimes mummy gives in. Please know this is totally inevitable at times and does not make you a bad parent and anyone who tells you otherwise is kidding themselves, or doesn’t have children. For me, it’s about choosing what is and is not worth caving for, and then doing your best to stick to it. (And also not being too hard on yourself if you mess up!)
My daughter was starting to form her first words, she was getting more and more teeth and I just felt the time was right. I knew I had to be ready more than anyone else. My husband and I made sure to get lots of sleep the week before and picked a Friday night preparing ourselves emotionally for some bad nights ahead. Following my recent sleep consultant training advice I threw the dummies out ready for bedtime. Don’t worry, Selfie (sans dummy) is safe and sound in a memory box in the loft. But with the dummies in the bin there was no turning back.
We set about bedtime the same as usual with our now well established bedtime routine; she was fed, washed and pajama-ed so I placed her down in her cot and sat in my chair for lullabies as usual. But no dummy. Unsurprisingly she was not impressed and demonstrated her disapproval loudly. After about a minute, with the volume now piercing, I could feel the doubt rising and my resolve weakening. Luckily, I had been taught about a mindful breathing exercise (Uptatonummolor (guysandstthomas.nhs.uk)) that promotes calmness and clarity as part of my compassion focussed therapy sessions. This really helped me but my daughter was still crying out for Selfie. Usually, I would leave her room and she would put herself to sleep but I wanted to be right there with her to comfort and soothe her through this. So I stayed with her and shhed and patted and stroked and cuddled. She kept crying because she didn’t want mummy, she wanted the dummy. Eventually she accepted the comforting she was being given but wanted me to be constantly touching her and I knew this was something that would be easier to wean than the dummy so I didn’t mind. Finally she laid down, but then it took forever for her to drop off to sleep. I veeeery slowly managed to sneak out of the room victorious and to my surprise it had only been about 45 minutes! The following day, naptimes were equally draining but again, didn’t take more than an hour and bedtime was the same.
She was learning, she wasn’t happy about it, but I was there to hold her hand through it all.
On the third night she wasn’t having any of it! I didn’t understand why though, I was responding to her and I was following sleep training techniques. But it wasn’t enough and at one point I had to pick her up because her crying had become distressing to us both but it was the right thing to do at the time. Only now I couldn’t put her down and the newborn phase came screaming back to me. I felt overwhelmed and wanted to dig the dummy out of the bin… however, I knew if I caved, I would only have to do this all again. And next time, it would be worse because she’d hold out even longer! Adding to the pressure, I also really needed the loo! Having resigned myself to probably not getting any sleep that night I figured I better pee now before I’m locked in to that ‘don’t move, don’t make a sound’ portion of the night. So I popped her down and ran to the loo quick. I could hear her crying and felt like the worst mum in the world but hey, when nature calls... I reassured my concerned husband that everything was alright and told him to go to bed without me. But before I could get back into place in the nursery, we realised the crying had stopped. We checked the baby monitor and saw she was laying down quietly, peacefully... sleepily? My being in the room offering what I thought was helpful was obviously too stimulating for her and what she actually needed was to be left to it. I know this now, because it was part of our bedtime routine, to leave the room.
But this just shows how hard it is to be objective for your own child, particularly when they’re crying.
The following night she protested for maybe three minutes when I left the room, but then quietened down and rolled over to sleep. I couldn’t believe it. After a few nights, she didn’t cry at all- it was amazing!
At the time of writing this, we’re now a whole month without the dummy and sleeping better than ever. It wasn’t easy, but I have to say it was quicker than I thought it would be. The worry of it was on my mind for months, but it was only a matter of a few days for it to be resolved. Looking back I wonder if I could have saved us all a lot of stress by leaving the room on day one and just popping back to pat or shh from the door. My fussing was undoubtedly confusing for her and prolonged the crying and what I thought was kindness actually created the opposite effect.
But she’s not the only one learning in these early years!
If you’re thinking about ditching the dummy or want to be prepared for when that time comes for you and would like some advice, don’t be a dummy, get in touch today!