Opinion: In my view - Reinserting dummies

When someone mentions dummies, what comes to mind? Is it a mother in a supermarket laden with shopping, children in tow and a large dummy in the toddler's mouth? Or is it the middle-of-the-night mother pacing the floor with a screaming newborn?

While researching dummy use in childcare settings, everyone I met had a view, ranging from the slightly saintly, 'I would never use a dummy' attitude, to the 'I used a dummy but ...', always followed by a guilty explanation of why it was acceptable in this instance but that this mother really knows dummies are 'not a good thing'.

But why do mothers feel so guilty about dummy use that they need to offer a rationale? Do we, as professionals, make mothers feel guilty about offering a baby a dummy? Should we do so?

My research, investigating how practitioners in children's centres and nurseries viewed dummies, demonstrates how much confusion and tension exists in the workplace around the issue. In view of these tensions, how will staff integrate the new advice from the Department of Health that giving a baby a dummy at sleep time may protect them against cot death?

Some managers may find this goes completely against the grain. Having been firmly opposed to dummy use, they will need to have a re-think. Moreover, they will need to communicate this re-think to staff, whom they have previously advised to reduce the use of dummies. I wonder how managers will manage this process and how comfortable they will be with it? Which nursery will be the first to promote dummies at sleep time for babies, develop joint strategies with parents for weaning, and hold a birthday/throw-away-the-dummy party for one-year-olds and their parents (for it is more often the parental habit that is hardest to break)?

- Dr Judith Whitmarsh, senior lecturer, School of Education, University of Wolverhampton.

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