Is your baby using you as a dummy?

‘I don’t think he can be hungry – he’s just sucking for comfort. He thinks I’m a dummy.’

Mothers often say something like this when they feel at their lowest, tiredest point, when they wonder why anyone ever thought breastfeeding was a ‘good thing’ – sure, it might be for the baby, but what about for the mother?

It’s true that many, many babies give the impression that left to them, they’d rather like to be on the breast most of the day and night, thank you very much, and in the times they aren’t actually on it, they’d like to be near it.

Babies’ normal newborn behaviour can be anything from predictable, three-to-four-hourly feeds with sleeps in between, to apparently constant snacking and napping, with all variations in between those extremes. In a healthy, thriving baby, and in the absence of sore nipples, neither behaviour means there is anything ‘wrong’ with the baby or the feeding.

It is also unlikely to last, though when mothers ask ‘how long will he be like this?’ you can’t give a definite answer. But it’s also worth looking at the terminology used when we talk about newborn behaviours.

For example, a baby doesn’t suck ‘just’ for comfort. Comfort is really important to the well-being of a baby – as important, some might say, as nutrition. Sometimes, we as mothers feel guilty about ‘indulging’ our babies and ‘giving in’ to this need for comfort. We might even be accused of spoiling our babies. But a baby has no other way of letting us know he needs comfort other than by crying when he doesn’t get it!

As a newborn baby gets older, this need for frequent physical reassurance tends to lessen – but all of us as human beings enjoy tactile closeness. Would we ever say to our partners ‘no, I’m not going to kiss you or hold you – you only want it for comfort’…unless there was something amiss in the relationship?

And what about breastfeeding which ‘just’ uses the mother as a dummy. Which came first – breasts or dummies? Dummies were invented as substitute breasts, because babies love to suck so much. Can we wonder that the baby prefers the real thing?

Dummies and breastfeeding can co-exist, though there is evidence to suggest dummies introduced too soon to a breastfed baby can interfere with the establishment of breastfeeding, so it’s probably best to leave them until after you’re confident breastfeeding’s established.

Always get help and support with other tasks, if you can, when your baby is going through a phase like this. Don’t think breastfeeding is going to be like this forever – you will get time to yourself, your baby will become more predictable, and the convenience of breastfeeding (no bottles, no sterilising, no powder) will come into its own.

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