Friday, April 12, 2013

The Pacifier

I have never been a fan of the pacifier.  In fact, when I walked into the special care nursery the day Jacob was born and saw one in his little bassinet, I was slightly distressed.  How dare they use one of those without my permission?  I had visions of the agony of getting him to give up the habit a couple years down the road.  After my initial rage, sensibility prevailed and of course I realized that with all those other babies in the room, they might need a tool to keep mine quiet when he was freaking out.  After all, it took me a while to get down to the nursery to feed him and how awful it would be to have him crying that whole time. 

We took that one home and had a couple others sitting around the house for a while, but all told, I think Jacob only used one a handful of times.  I just never wanted to get him hooked, and he never really took to it anyway.  Problem solved.  And you know, I thanked my lucky stars for that.  I mean, sure, it would have been nice to have a mute button for him once in a while, but a short term screaming baby scared me a heck of a lot less than the drawn-out, angst-filled process of getting a too-old child to give up something they were dependent on.  I'd heard too many horror stories and seen far too many three-year-olds running around with pacifiers in their mouths for no apparent reason to think that giving one up would be easy.  I didn't want that to be us.

In the five years between babies, I've gotten more into reading blogs and I've gained a lot of knowledge on the subject.  I've seen a lot of stories about the paci-fairy that takes pacifiers in the night and leaves presents.  I've seen people talk about attaching them to a balloon to float off to heaven.  I've seen where people leave them for Santa or the Easter bunny.  And in most cases, parents deal with a couple nights of screaming kids and then all is right with the world again.  Not fun, but  doable.  And, to be fair, it beats the thought of having to break a kid of a finger-sucking habit. You can take away a pacifier, but you can't take away fingers.  I sucked two fingers when I was a kid, and I still vaguely remember having to break the habit, courtesy of some nasty tasting stuff my parents put on my fingers.  Annoying, for sure, but I'm obviously glad they did it and I came out unscathed.

Interestingly, in the last few months we've noticed that Jacob has picked up a nasty habit of sticking his fingers in his mouth.  I don't think he's sucking or chewing, but he's constantly got one or two in there.  I think it's a nervous habit (particularly when he's upset or knows he's in trouble (even if knowing he's in trouble isn't upsetting to him), though we do catch him doing it at non-nervous moments, too, so maybe it's just becoming a general habit.  We're constantly reminding him, as nicely as we can, to get his fingers out of his mouth.  We remind him that when his fingers are in there, he's taking in germs.  And, appropriately, he's spent most of the winter with a cold.  Yippee.  It's gotten bad enough that I'm considering getting some of the nasty tasting stuff, though I haven't been able to figure out what you're supposed to use or where to get it, and most of the time I'm at the store with one or both kids so I don't want to take the time to browse.  Perhaps a question for the pediatrician next time we're there.  I feel bad about the whole thing, because I worry we've somehow created a nervous kid and that we're going to scar him by constantly bugging him about the habit.  It's for his own good, but at this point we're not sure what to do with it.  Will he outgrow it?  Maybe.  But he wouldn't be the first kid to take some sort of weird habit to school with him.  It's not super noticeable, I suppose, but it definitely bugs us now.

When Carter arrived, I wasn't sure what our pacifier philosophy would be.  Another thing I've learned in between the two kids is that sucking is a soothing mechanism for babies.  I suppose maybe I knew that before, but perhaps I didn't really understand the true biological impact.  When we were at the hospital this time, there weren't any pacifiers in sight.  I'm wondering if that's because I was breastfeeding, because I saw an article talking about how some hospitals took out pacifiers in an attempt to encourage breastfeeding (though ironically, breastfeeding rates went down!).  In retrospect, a pacifier might have helped me that night when I was alone and couldn't stay awake to feed Carter for the umpteenth time.  I just never thought to ask for one.  When we first got home I wasn't that eager to pull them out.  But one night I got them out when Carter was crying and for whatever reason I couldn't get him to stop.  Maybe he was acting hungry yet again, or maybe I had to do something else and couldn't pick him up.  Either way, I tried it.  He didn't love it at first, but at some point he sort of picked up on it. 

As time has gone on, we've used them more than I expected.  He gets fussy in the evenings, and in the old days I'd just have whipped out a boob and let him go, but the formula costs too much to do a "just in case" bottle that he may not finish.  So, instead I give him a pacifier and hope that helps him out for a bit.  I figure it'll either calm him down for real, or satisfy him long enough to get through what I have to before I can attend to him further.  When you've got another kid or a dinner to get on the table (or get into your stomach), it's definitely helpful.  He spits it out a lot, but readily accepts it again most of the time, so it tends to be less low-maintenance than one would hope, but it's better than screaming!  We didn't need it as much when there was just one baby and our lives were a little more flexible, but things are different now.  And I think that Carter just likes to suck.  I read somewhere that reflux can be soothed by it, so maybe that's where it all started.  It definitely seems to have a calming effect on him.  And not for nothing, but sometimes he gets the most exaggerated suck going and he totally reminds me of Maggie Simpson!

The plan at this point is to use them only when necessary.  I don't want to use it any other time than when he's in immediate need of calming.  And once he's calm, it's gone.  And once he hits six months or so, I think they'll be totally gone.  I hope, anyway.  My goal is to minimize use enough that he doesn't get dependent, and to never have him sitting around playing contentedly with one in his mouth.  Because if he's content, he doesn't need it.  But in the meantime, I've made peace with using one now and then to calm down a little boy who sometimes seems to need it.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that he got some fun ones from my friend Heather...soccer balls for now, and basketballs when he's a little bigger...
Consider this one of the very few times you will ever see a picture of one in his mouth...and this was pretty much just for show.  He was a little fussy, but obviously I was available to pick him up right after I took this picture.  Once he's smiling regularly, I don't want to risk one of those smiles hiding behind one of these!
Just seeing the picture above definitely confirms I'd rather see his entire face, but again, perhaps it's better than a lot of screaming.  I'm just happy I've made peace with it and have a solid philosophy about its use.  I don't want to mindlessly stick one in his mouth and start relying on them too much, but I can appreciate that each child is different and perhaps Carter needs one now and then.  And that's okay.

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