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Are you worried that your child will grow up alone, disfigured and wearing braces at his retirement party if you let him suck on a pacifier?
OK, that question is a bit hyperbolic but let’s be honest: those cute little binkies can be a divisive topic among parents. Many moms and dads believe that, at best, pacifiers cause minor dental issues and, at worst, they hamper a baby’s ability to properly breastfeed.
While very few things in parenting are wholly black and white, we don’t think anyone needs to be throwing the binky-sucking baby out with the bathwater.
When used correctly, pacifiers can be healthy for breastfeeding babies and helpful for parents looking for a few minutes of peace and quiet.
Pacifiers are not a new thing. In fact, they have been around for thousands of years in one form or another. While previously made out of clay, silver, or even coral, our modern pacifiers are often crafted from materials that will mimic the feel of a mother’s nipple, such as silicone.
When Can My Baby Have a Pacifier?
It is considered good practice to wait until your baby is at least one month old before introducing a pacifier; those early days should be spent encouraging your baby to nurse. During these weeks of breastfeeding, he will be getting vital nutrients while the very act of him suckling will keep your milk supply up.
Furthermore, you want to be sure that he is perfectly capable of feeding from your breast before allowing him to have that binky. Nursing from the nipple and sucking on a pacifier are two different actions; make sure your baby has mastered the former before introducing the latter.
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Picking a Pacifier
You might have to do some trial and error before you find a pacifier your baby falls in love with, but breastfeeding mothers do not have to pick a specific brand or build. Just be sure to pay attention to the material out of which it’s made and be sure it is not something your baby is allergic to.
Oh, and protip: buy dishwasher safe. You will be washing those things a lot.
Benefits of Pacifiers
While the controversy around pacifiers is not without merit, their use is hardly a black and white matter. Pacifiers have proven their worth in more than one way.
- Lowers Risk of SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is quite literally every family’s worst nightmare. While the cause of SIDS is still considered a medical mystery, pediatricians and researchers have long been looking for ways to reduce its occurrence. Surprisingly enough, evidence suggests that putting your baby to bed with a pacifier may help reduce the chance of SIDS. While the exact reason behind this eludes doctors and scientists, anything that can help ward off a deadly illness is worth considering. If your baby will take a pacifier (don’t push the issue if he will not), allow him to start sucking it when you put him down for bedtime or a nap. If it falls out while he is sleeping, do not put it back in his mouth. Do not use a pacifier with a neck-string or that is attached to clothing or toys, as these can pose strangulation hazards. Opt for a plain, boring looking binky during times of sleep. (source / source)
- Sucking Instinct and Pacifiers: You might have noticed that sometimes your baby doesn’t want to stop sucking your nipple. In fact, he may sometimes stay on the breast so long that he overindulges and gives himself an upset tummy. Pacifiers can satisfy that urge to suckle, and you won’t have to worry about your baby returning your milk to you in the form of vomiting on your chest. What mom wouldn’t prefer an all sales final policy on their breast milk? (source)
- Self-Soothing and Pacifiers: That non-nutritive sucking instinct mentioned above is not just there for no reason. It can be a soothing method your child uses when he is feeling stressed or overtired.It is not practical for any mother to walk around with their baby attached to her nipple 24/7. A pacifier can, to an extent, provide an outlet for a baby’s need to self-soothe. This can make for a happier child, which can lead to a less stressful day for everyone. (source / source)
- Flying and Pacifiers: What parent hasn’t cringed at the thought of flying with a baby? Hell, what parent hasn’t cringed at the sight of someone else’s baby on their flight? Changes in pressure can cause the eardrum to distend inward or outward, leading to an ache we have all experienced at least once in life. As adults, we can swallow, yawn, or chew gum to alleviate this discomfort. Babies, however, are a bit young to be popping a stick of Double Mint into their mouths. It is recommended that you allow your baby to suck on something during take-off and during the initial descent to help ease their discomfort. If you are unsure of when the initial descent takes place (it’s not the actual landing, and frequently occurs earlier in the flight than one might think), ask a flight attendant to alert you. A sucking motion during these periods can encourage enough facial movement to get those eardrums back in the proper place. Your breast can accomplish this task but, let’s face it, nursing on a plane is hard enough without having to time it to the plane’s altitude. Yes, a decent breastfeeding cover will go a long way, but pacifiers make a very convenient option in cases like these. (source / source)
The Drawbacks of Pacifiers
We would not be doing our jobs if we didn’t point out that those cute little binkies can also have drawbacks.
- Nipple Confusion: This is usually only a concern if you start using a pacifier too early; studies have not shown pacifiers to cause breastfeeding problems when they have been introduced at the proper age. However, you do not want your baby to begin preferring an artificial nipple to your nutrient-supplying nipple, so if your little one starts to want their binky more than your breast, discontinue its use – even if your nipples are getting sore. (source)
- Dental Concerns: While pacifiers can cause dental issues, the research has shown that as long as pacifiers are no longer used after two years of age, most problems will likely fix themselves within a six month period. Using pacifiers beyond that age, especially when permanent teeth begin to come in, can lead to crooked teeth, a narrow roof of the mouth, or even misaligned jaws.
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- Ear Infections: Evidence suggests that your baby’s beloved binky might be a prime source of ear infections, though scientists are unsure of exactly why this is. Existing studies have shown that babies who use pacifiers are up to three times more likely to suffer from an ear ailment than those who do not use pacifiers.
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- Have a strong breastfeeding routine before introducing pacifiers;
- Wash pacifiers frequently;
- Let your baby sleep with a pacifier;
- Routinely inspect pacifier to be sure it is not damaged;
- Discontinue use if your baby starts preferring the pacifier to the nipple;
- Wean babies from pacifiers early
Pacifiers are one of the more hotly debated topics among parents, and we totally get that.
- Disadvantage: They clearly have their disadvantages, including a link to dental issues, ear infections, and possible breastfeeding problems in some babies.
- Advantage: At the same time, they have a lot of offer our littles. They could be a SIDS preventative and they meet a sucking instinct when our breasts are unavailable, even making traveling via plane easier. Perhaps pacifiers have another advantage: they are a way to introduce the concept of balance into your baby’s life. You are never too young to learn a little moderation.