In a comedy skit presented at a RIE fundraiser several years ago, actor and RIE supporter William H. Macy (playing a baby clad in diapers and a bonnet) revealed a hidden pacifier and passed it surreptitiously to fellow RIE babies Jason Alexander and Paul McCrane. Out of eyeshot of their imaginary parents, they each took a deep “drag” on the pacifier. In a hushed whisper, Macy admonished Alexander, “Don’t bogart my passy!”
The best humor springs from truth, and the actors (with an assist from writer Ed Solomon) brought down the house poking fun at the RIE philosophy, parents and our foibles.
No question, pacifiers are a tremendous temptation — but not for babies — for us! As new parents, we desperately want to quiet our baby’s tears or help him sleep. Sucking is instinctual and calming, but this important need can be fulfilled by nature’s perfect pacifier — the thumb.
For parents, the thumb has obvious practical benefits: it doesn’t get lost, fall on the floor and get dirty, disappear in the night while the baby sleeps, and it is available anywhere and anytime. For the baby, the thumb has the most important benefits of all: it belongs to him, he discovers it, learns how to use it, controls it, and he decides when he needs it.
It is never easy to hear a baby cry, and we mistakenly believe it is our job to quiet a baby’s tears immediately, and by whatever means necessary. But babies communicate by crying, and sometimes they are expressing a particular need, like hunger. Other times they are expressing feelings. When we thrust a pacifier into a baby’s mouth, we are not only assuming a baby needs to suck, we are also disallowing further communication. Babies need their feelings heard, respected and calmly supported, just like we all do.
Infant expert Magda Gerber warned that calming a baby’s cries with a pacifier (or the breast when a baby is not hungry) gives the message, “Don’t do what comes naturally. Do what pleases me, your parent. I am in control of how you should feel and how you should show your feelings.”
Many parents worry that thumb sucking will become a habit, and yet we create the pacifier habit. We buy them when our child is just days old without giving him the opportunity to discover his thumb. Perhaps we feel more in control of the pacifier habit because we can end the problem by throwing it away. As Magda Gerber acknowledges in Dear Parent, Caring For Infants With Respect. “The issue is not a preference of pacifier vs. thumb. The real issue is, who is in control?”
The healthy pacifier is the one nature provides. It is easily accessed, always available, and can be used wherever and whenever the child chooses (even as some fetuses do — in the womb.) Life and parenting are so much simpler when we trust nature… and babies.