By Lorna Perry
My baby sucks. A lot. And it was the discovery of this fact that transformed me from a complete mess, into the slightly-more-in-control-but-still-desperately-making-it-up-as-I-go mother I am today.
Let’s start at the beginning. Breastfeeding has been difficult for me, as it is for many women: I have had a blocked duct, an angry red crack on one nipple that sent the left boob into rehab and ridiculously enlarged breasts that have seen me wearing bras I previously only ever associated with Pamela Anderson.
But, as the weeks progressed, a different and completely unexpected issue started to emerge: hour-long sleeps, day and night. When my son woke up, he would cry and I would respond the way I had been told to respond in the ante-natal classes: feed, change nappy, cuddle until he fell back to sleep, often after two hours. Here’s an example of one such night (awake and asleep refers to the baby, not me):
I initially thought it was a growth spurt, but after five days I suspected something else was happening. And, come to think of it, it’s amazing I had any rational thought at all after five days of that. It felt like torture. At midnight I was uncontrollably sobbing, tears streaming down my face and shoulders shaking, arms on auto-pilot rocking the baby, desperately trying to get him to sleep. My breasts were deflated balloons, constantly drained and never allowed to completely refill. I was physically and mentally exhausted.
The solution – the saviour of my sanity – came from a chat on the phone with my own mother, who lives interstate. ‘Why don’t you try a dummy?, she said. My initial response was one of masked reluctance; ‘sure, I’ll try anything’, while inwardly I hoped it wouldn’t come to that; ‘don’t dummies affect brain development?’ I thought, although it turns out I had no scientific or even fake news basis to back up such a wild presumption.
The internet offered a broader and more complete picture. From what I could gather, at worst a dummy was thought to possibly interfere with breastfeeding in the early days (three to four weeks, so I was out of the woods on that front) and, at best is an easier habit to break than thumb-sucking. I also learnt from my fellow-new-mum-same-crap-different-hemisphere in Utah, that it could possibly reduce the risk of SIDS, though I should say this is a suggestion from the American Academy of Pediatrics and there doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of extensive research on this. And although I’d always believed I didn’t have a dummy as a child because my mother didn’t like them, it turned out it was because I didn’t like them, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
So, having done my research, I went to the pharmacy and made the most significant life-changing purchase for our baby I have made so far. I remember that first afternoon and evening with such clarity; the transformation, the euphoria, the feeling like I was almost cheating at being a parent because all of a sudden I could stop him crying. I was back in control. It was a huge turning point for me and I started enjoying being a mother, rather than fake smiling when people asked how much I was loving motherhood.
The dummy/pacifier/soother/binkie works for my son because he sucks for comfort. He would often fall asleep on the nipple, still apparently suckling. It’s even in his genes, as I sucked my thumb until I was eight. Short of any other more scientific or qualified opinion, comfort suckler is the diagnosis and a bit of plastic the cure (for my son at least, I am truly sorry if you have tried a dummy and it hasn’t worked).
And I should say it’s not a complete fix. Even now, I’m getting up every couple of minutes to replace the dummy because it keeps falling out as he tries to get to sleep. But that’s better than having my boob dangling out of my top at 3am, my sanity destroyed because my every move is being determined by a month old human.
What kinda bugged me, was that it took four weeks and my mother, who lives interstate, to come up with this idea. The thought of a dummy hadn’t even crossed my mind before then – it wasn’t like I was waiting until breastfeeding was established, which I realise is why a dummy isn’t the suggested go-to in the initial weeks. I just honestly had not thought of it.
I’ve now realised I needed to hear the full range of options. Throw any stigma out the window and load me up. Sure, there’s the risk of being overwhelmed by too many potential things. But how about getting, after birth, a yes/no flow chart you can put on the kitchen fridge that has the complete range of solutions to a baby crying i.e. Feed baby, worked? Kudos to you! Didn’t work, change nappy. Worked? Kudos to you, have a donut. Didn’t work, check their temperature. Worked? High five! Didn’t work, is breastfeeding on the right track? No? Try rocking them in a cradle. Yes? Try a dummy etc. etc.
After all, it’s not called a pacifier for nothing.
Lorna is new mum to two-month-old Rory, who now spend most of their time either checking out the best coffee and cake options in Perth or the best running/walking tracks in its surrounds.
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