This debate appears from time to time and I am always slightly bemused it. It is so banal but at the same time also important. An odd combination. Do you give your baby/child a dummy to suck on?
A summary of the effects of dummies was presented in a recent newspaper article by Rosie Squires
22% of new mothers who gave their child a dummy were advised by a mid wife
28% were told to use a dummy by their mother or mother-in-law
Dummies can be:
Useful settling tool
They are addictive
Prolonged use can cause overbite and speech problems
Many hospital policies say nurses should discourage mothers from using a dummy
Robin Baker, author of “Baby Love’ says parents should avoid using dummies if possible
She clearly presents the case against dummy use. Firstly she is saying they can be addictive. I must say I find that an odd comment - what does it even mean?
If they can cause over bite is a very debatable point and would apply to only a very small group of children. To shift the position of the teeth in the jaw is a very difficult thing to do. It takes considerable pressure to be applied over a very prolonged period of time. For a child to do such a thing indicates other psychological disturbance anyway. It seems that it is impossible for a dummy to apply such pressure. The part inside the mouth is made of soft plastic and can not apply any force onto the teeth. As an example now, just do some sucking and you can see no pressure is being applied to the teeth with the sucking reflex. With thumb sucking pressure could be applied to the teeth by the thumb but again it would have to be quite forceful and over a very long period of time.
Even if it is possible to shift the teeth a dentist confirmed to me that should the baby (primary) teeth be moved when they fall out the secondary teeth would come down in the normal position anyway. The falling out of these teeth lasts from 6 to 12 years of age.
From a psychological point of view the very first stage of life is the oral stage. It is the first way the child communicates with the world. By sucking, usually in breast feeding. It is acknowledged that children need to get oral stimulation by sucking, touching the lips and the oral cavity. Young children will naturally put items in their mouth as it is the way they understand the world. As parents find out that will include all sorts of things from small toys, food, worms, dirt, snails and so forth. When adults want to discover the nature of an object they pick it up, look at it and touch it. That is how they come to understand it. A young child does not have the cognitive ability to do that so it discovers the object by placing it in the mouth and that is how it understands things in the world. All this is seen as basic requirement for psychological health. To deprive a child of such oral experiences and stimulation would be seen as a retrograde step psychologically.
"It's how I understand the world."
As it is an orally focussed person the child also learns that to relieve distress and stress it can suck. This is one of the very first ways a child learns how to emotionally regulate it self. It is one of the very first ways it learns how to self soothe. With the use of a dummy or a thumb the child can learn how to do its very first self soothing and emotional regulation.
In the oral stage problems can occur in two ways. Firstly the parents deprive the child of enough oral stimulation. By various means they do not allow the child to touch its mouth, have objects in it’s mouth on which to suck and so forth. If the need for oral stimulation is not met then the person goes through life craving the sucking reflex and oral stimulation. One prime example of this is cigarette smoking.
People smoke cigarettes for a variety of reasons. One reason is that it is a way by which they can gain the oral stimulation and sucking reflex which they were deprived of in childhood. It is this group of smokers who find it very difficult to give up because it is satisfying one of the most basic needs humans have and people will be very reluctant to let that go.
The other difficulty is when the the child is traumatized in some way when it is in the oral stage of development (0 - 18 months of age). It could be repeatedly hit or maybe left for long periods of time unattended. This significantly traumatizes the child such that it becomes fixated at the stage in which it is - the oral stage. In adulthood this can lead to all kinds of psychological manifestations in adulthood which these two diagrams show, particularly in the second.
The thing which surprises me about all this is that the great dummy debate even exists in the first place and some people can get quite emotive about it all. All that is happening is a baby is sucking on a piece of soft plastic, what on earth can be wrong with such a banal piece of human behaviour.
Of course it is not about the behaviour but about the reactions adults have when they observe the behaviour. What they see is a baby satisfying one of it’s very first needs and this can bring up all sorts of feelings for the adult observer. It reminds them of how they were allowed or not allowed to satisfy their own needs and this can generate strong internal emotions for the adult.