The controversy over the use of pacifiers (or dummies) has split the parents into two opposite camps. Pro pacifier parents argue that babies are born with strong sucking reflex. The soothing effect of pacifier calms fussy babies down and helps them to fall asleep, giving the parents that precious time for rest. Those who are against claim that there is a natural reason why babies are born with strong sucking needs. Giving artificial soothers may deprive them what they need most when they are so small – mom’s breastmilk and proximity.
Giving or not a pacifier is an individual choice of parents – like most of the parenting choices are. However, there is a reason why many influential health institutions like the World Health Organization and UNICEF advice against using it at all. Others recommend avoiding it at least for the first four to six weeks. This article shares some information about cons and pros of pacifiers to help you make an informed decision about them.
What are the risks of pacifiers?
Unfortunately, the negatives aspects of pacifiers overwhelm.
- Pacifier may negatively affect breastfeeding. If you plan to breastfeed your baby, beware of the important negative effect of pacifiers and other artificial nipples on establishing your milk supply. The process of milk production (lactation) depends on how well and often the baby empties your breasts. By suckling, baby stimulates the production of prolactin, which is the primary hormone responsible for milk production. Offering you baby a pacifier instead of breast means less stimulation of the latter. Studies show the detrimental effect that early introduction of a pacifier may have on the duration of breastfeeding.
- Pacifiers may cause nipple confusion and lead to cracked nipples. Woman breasts and artificial nipples (pacifier, bottle, feeder, etc) are structured in different ways and imply different sucking mechanisms. Drawing milk from a breast is more difficult than from a bottle: babies use about 40 facial muscles when suckling from a breast. Artificial nipples are hard, tapering, and easy to suck. Babies that breastfeed and use pacifiers may confuse this two different suckling mechanisms and latch on breasts as they do on pacifiers. Wrong latch usually means cracked nipples leading to inefficient breastfeeding and poor weight gain.
Pacifiers may increase the risk of ear infections
Studies show that the risk of ear infections is up to three times higher among those infants who use pacifiers compared to those who do not. Reducing the use of a pacifier by one-fifth reduces the chance of ear infection by a quarter.
- Continuous pacifier use may lead to dental issues. Prolonged pacifier use may lead to changes in the shape of the root of the mouth and affect the alignment of the teeth. Child’s upper teeth may tip forward and become crooked causing a bite problem.
- Pacifiers may cause additional harm if the baby experiences speech development delay. Patricia Hamaguchi, a speech-language pathologist from Cupertino, California, writes: “If your toddler seems to be developing speech and language problems, a pacifier won’t help matters. That’s because sucking on a pacifier locks a child’s mouth in an unnatural position, making it more difficult for him to develop his tongue and lip muscles normally”.
What are the benefits of pacifiers?
The most benefits of pacifiers are for babies who are not breastfed on demand.
- Pacifier helps sooth the baby. Many fussy babies calm down when rocked or cuddled. Some kids, especially those who are not breastfed, calm down only when sucking something.
- Pacifiers may reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While the mechanism is not clear yet, the same studies show that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS too. It is up to parents to decide which method they prefer
- Pacifiers help babies to fall asleep more easily. Breastfed babies fall asleep when nursing. Bottle-fed babies do not have this option, and pacifier may indeed help.
If after all what we have discussed above you are still not sure whether you want to give a pacifier to your baby or not, ask yourself if your baby really needs one. If you want to breastfeed your baby, avoid pacifiers and other artificial nipples (including bottles) for at least the first 4-6 weeks until your milk supply is well established. Never offer a pacifier when your baby is hungry, and limit the use of pacifier for in between feedings. You can significantly reduce the negative risks of a pacifier, if you offer it only to make your baby fall asleep and then take it out from his or her mouth. Finally, listen to your baby: if she or he resists, don’t force it.
What is your experience with pacifiers? Did you manage without them? Did they help?