Pacifiers may be a good or bad thing, depending on what expert is weighing in at the moment. Which is the problem with a lot of parenting advice. But as a mother of 12 babies who cried more often than not, I can tell you that pacifiers were a lifesaver for me.
Pacifiers gave my babies the extra sucking they needed for comfort when their bellies were already full. A longer feeding would have meant more milk. More milk would have meant more gas. More gas would lead to even more crying. Besides, I had (and still have) a rather low tolerance for crying. The pacifier stopped the crying. That meant for a much less stressed mom (me).
In addition to the gas factor from too much milk, breastfeeding for me meant soreness and even breast infections in the early postpartum days. I needed to give myself a break here and there for air and healing. The pacifier gave me that bit of a break from breastfeeding.
The experts would tell me that longer suckling didn’t mean more milk, since most of the milk comes in the first several minutes of nursing and after that, it’s not a significant enough amount to be causing my baby gas. They would tell me that soreness came from poor positioning. But let me tell you, I nursed all 12 of my children, and nursing longer did upset their tummies. Also I worked hard at positioning, and nothing I did ever made a difference. I’m fair-skinned, and cracked nipples due to nursing were unavoidable.
Then there was the myth that pacifiers cause nipple confusion. If I gave my baby a pacifier, this would make it difficult for the baby to nurse, since these were two differently shaped objects and the baby wouldn’t be able to adapt. Nonsense. All my babies adapted just fine to having both.
Finally, I had a nursing expert insist to me that pacifiers were deadly. That several babies had arrived at the emergency room, dead on arrival, with pacifiers down their throats. I searched in vain for such an occurrence. The fact is, it never happened. (Old wives tale #162. Apparently.)
I learned with my first that you had to find a pacifier that was small enough that it wouldn’t set off the baby’s gag reflex. I also found you had to give the pacifier very early on, or the baby wouldn’t take to it. I’d buy and sterilize a few pacifiers and stow them in a clean baggie in my hospital bag, giving it to the baby between feedings, and that worked very well for me.
I spent some time researching current thought on pacifier use just now and saw that while some of the advice fits with my experience as laid out above, some of it definitely does not. My advice is to do what feels best to you as a mom. Listen to what your heart tells you and you won’t go wrong. With that said, here is a list of pros and cons regarding today’s view of pacifiers:
- A pacifier may calm a crying baby. Some babies are only happy when they are sucking. Yet they can’t be eating all the time! The pacifier offers extra sucking without causing infants to eat beyond what their immature little tummies can handle.
- A pacifier can serve as a distraction. The baby has just had a vaccine or a blood test and is crying. Stick the pacifier in the baby’s mouth and voila! The baby has already forgotten all about the discomfort from the medical procedure and is quiet once more.
- A pacifier can help your baby fall asleep. Some babies fall asleep at the breast and as you try to ease them into their cribs, they awaken. If you can slip the pacifier into the baby’s mouth, you may just be able to get that baby into bed without him waking up. Also, if the baby awakens, sometimes putting the pacifier in the baby’s mouth will help the baby fall back asleep.
- A pacifier can keep the baby’s ears “open” while flying. An adult can chew gum or hold his nose while swallowing, but a baby can’t do anything intentional to ease the ear pain that comes with pressure changes. Sucking a pacifier can help prevent the ear pain associated with air travel.
- A pacifier may cut your baby’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Research suggests that babies who use pacifiers when napping and sleeping have a lower risk for SIDS.
- The pacifier habit is easier to break than the thumb habit. Some say that it’s easier to stop sucking a pacifier because it’s not a part of the baby’s body, unlike the thumb. You can just throw it away and then it’s not always “there.” Others say that with thumb-sucking, there is sensation experienced in both thumb and mouth, making it a more difficult habit to break than the pacifier which gives sensation only in the mouth. Probably both these ideas are true, making it easier to surrender the pacifier than the thumb.
- A pacifier can cause nipple confusion in the early days after birth. The shape of a pacifier is different than the shape of the nipple. Offering both before nursing is well-established can confuse a very sensitive baby and interfere with the baby’s nursing. Anything that complicates breastfeeding in the first few weeks and months can make developing a steady milk supply difficult.
- A baby can become dependent on the pacifier. If your baby becomes used to sleeping with the pacifier, you may find he awakens every time the pacifier falls out of his mouth. That means you may find yourself running to the baby in the middle of the night, every time he loses the pacifier, to put the durned thing back in the baby’s mouth. That kind of defeats your purpose, since the idea of the pacifier is to help the baby be calm and sleep, and not for the pacifier to become something else that makes the baby cry (when he loses it). Not to mention, the pacifier is supposed to give you more sleep by giving the baby more sleep. Getting up every five minutes to stick the binky in the baby’s mouth just isn’t going to cut it.
- Pacifiers may increase your baby’s risk for middle ear infections. The pacifier may cause middle ear infections. Middle ear infections, on the other hand, tend to be lowest during the baby’s first 6 months—the time when your baby is liable to need the most sucking. Also, the risk for SIDS is at its highest during this time period, when the pacifier may actually cut the baby’s risk for this deadly syndrome. If after 6 months, the baby seems to be prone to middle ear infections, that can be a good time to wean baby from the pacifier.
- Long-term pacifier use can lead to problems with a child’s bite. Bite problems, yes. But we’re talking years here. If you can get your baby to give up the pacifier by even the very late age of three years, there shouldn’t be any dental problems at all.
If you decide to give your baby a pacifier, remember to:
- Opt for a pacifier that is one-piece and made of silicone. A one-piece pacifier is less likely to pose a choking hazard in the event there is breakage. Silicone pacifiers are dishwasher safe and easier to keep clean and sterile.
- Keep several, identical back-up pacifiers. Pacifiers get lost. If your baby is dependent on the pacifier, you’ll want to make sure you have a spare on hand—or even two or three!
- Sterilize pacifiers in the early months. Wash pacifiers with soap and water and then boil for five minutes in a pot of water or run through the dishwasher—even when they’re new and never been used. When your baby is older, soap and hot water will be enough to keep the pacifier clean. Wiping a pacifier on your shirt tail or licking it “clean” are definite no-no’s.
- Don’t dip the pacifier in honey or other sugary substance. Honey isn’t safe for babies and anyway, the extra sugar is bad for their developing teeth and tummies. It’s just a bad habit, period. You don’t want them addicted to both the pacifier and some sugary sweet dip.
- Watch the pacifier for signs it needs replacement. Pacifiers can deteriorate which makes them dangerous. Also, babies age out of pacifiers, needing larger ones as they grow.
- If you use a pacifier clip, make sure the chain or strap isn’t long enough to become wrapped around the baby’s neck. Don’t improvise a pacifier clip with a string and pin, because it isn’t safe!
Helping the Baby Transition to Life Without Pacifier
Some babies are kind enough to give up the pacifier on their own somewhere between the ages of 2 and 4. Other babies need a bit of help from their parents to stop the pacifier habit. How you help them depends on their age:
Infants. Try rocking or singing to the baby. Swaddling the baby in a blanket can help calm a crying baby. Infant massage can also relax a stressed-out infant.
Older babies and toddlers. A “lovey” or a toy or blanket that the baby loves to hold and cuddle can serve as a substitute for the pacifier, acting as a distraction when the baby is needy.
Older toddlers and children. You might devise a ceremony to say goodbye to the toddler. Perhaps you might wrap it in a special box, sing a goodbye song, and put it on a high shelf. You might offer to exchange the pacifier for a special gift your child wants, for instance a tricycle. It can also be helpful for the dentist to have a talk with the older child. At this point, the pacifier can cause real damage to the child’s teeth and bite. Sometimes, the explanation is more readily accepted from the dentist than from the parent—coming from the parent, the child can see it as a power struggle, not so from the dentist.
Still can’t get the child to give up the pacifier? Speak with your child’s doctor for advice.