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The Pacifier: To Suck or Not to Suck?

Paci, papper, binky, nuk-nuk, dummy.  Whatever you or your baby calls it, these little pieces of rubber can be a source of intense debate among parents. And there is usually a very distinct line drawn in the sand between the two camps. Before babe, while pregnant, and with a newborn, I was of the camp that was inexplicably, abhorrently against it.  Then it began to dawn on me that my little bird had no way to soothe himself aside from me, and my ever-present boobs. So I tried a pacifier quite late in the game. HA! The distance across the room that he immediately spat it was astounding.  No luck either, with thumb sucking, a teddy, a blankie, or anything else that could stand in for Mama when Birdie was/is upset. That’s my story. So where’s my camp now? We’ll see when I get pregnant again what side of the line I stand on, or if I just go and erase it altogether! I mean, it’s just sand. Right?

I will however, give you the lowdown on the noted Pros and Cons. Do with it what you will.

Pros. The biggest pro, that applies to ALL babies, breastfed or bottle fed, is that babies need to suck. Newborns rely on this "suck reflex" not only for sustenance but also for soothing. The steady rhythm, the concentration on one task, and the pleasurable stimulation of nerve endings help babies pull themselves together and overcome the many distractions of a big and confusing world.

Infancy scientist Tiffany Field has written, "Sucking is a predominant activity during the first 6 months of life, just as walking is the predominant milestone at 1 year."

From La Leche League International comes the very often-asked question:

Is it appropriate for a breastfeeding mother to offer her baby a pacifier?

(It is important to note that breastfeeding moms should wait until baby is nursing really well before introducing the pacifier.)

LLL’s answer is—sometimes. Pacifiers can calm a baby whose mother is unable to nurse at the moment, because she's driving, paying for groceries, or caring for an older child. They may soothe a colicky baby whose mother's arms, breasts, and patience are severely overtaxed. They can comfort a baby who for one reason or another is too distracted or too frantic to nurse at the breast. Mothers of twins find pacifiers helpful when one baby just has to wait while mother takes care of the other. Hospitals use pacifiers for premature infants, to stimulate their sucking reflex and to help them associate sucking with the delivery of food, even while they are still being tube-fed.

When pacifiers are used judiciously, a nursing mother can have it both ways.

Pacifiers may help reduce the risk for SIDS. In fact, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents consider letting their child fall asleep or nap with a pacifier their first year, as it seems to have a protective effect against sudden infant death syndrome. Researchers speculate that pacifiers may keep babies from rolling onto their faces or may keep their tongues forward and away from their airways.

Cons. According to a study reported in Pediatrics, pacifiers may lead to 40% more ear infections. Though researchers aren’t sure why this happens, they suspect it may be due to a change in pressure between the middle ear and upper throat.

Pacifiers are artificial nipples and may confuse a nursing baby, leading to ineffective sucking at the breast.  Since pacifiers decrease the amount of time a baby spends at the breast, this may affect the mother's milk supply.

Parents can also mistakenly offer a pacifier when baby really needs nutrition-based sucking, such as a breast or bottle.

A baby who is an overzealous sucker may become a toddler who does not give up the pacifier. Sucking a pacifier at the toddler stage can lock the mouth into an unnatural position, change their tooth alignment, and can cause dental problems later on. Additionally, talking around a pacifier may decrease talking, therefore delaying speech. This naturally brings us to the dreaded…

Weaning. So you have an official Pacifist (sorry, couldn’t resist). How and when do you get them to break the habit? The when is up to you and your child, for the how, check out this link for some different methods, and read stories from real parents in the weaning trenches here.

Choosing. You’ve opted to go for it. What kind to get?

When purchasing a pacifier, be sure to follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

*Look for a one-piece model with a soft nipple (some two-piece pacifiers can break apart).

*The shield should be made of firm plastic with air holes, and should measure at least 1 inch across so baby can't swallow it.

*Purchase dishwasher-safe pacifiers and clean them this way frequently until baby is 6 months; after this, wash pacifiers regularly with soap and hot water.

*Pacifiers come in two sizes: 0-6 months and 6 months and above; for baby's comfort, make sure pacifiers are the correct size.

*To prevent the risk of strangulation, never tie a pacifier around your baby's hand, neck, or crib railing. Use a pacifier clip instead.

*Never use a bottle nipple and ring in place of a pacifier; the nipple can separate from the ring and pose a choking hazard.

*Inspect pacifiers regularly for damage and replace them if the rubber has changed color or torn.

Never use a pacifier as a substitute for nursing or feeding, and never coat a pacifier in sugar, honey, or other sweet substances.

If it helps little muffin to fall asleep, the pacifier should not be reintroduced if it falls out of his mouth.

Know that while it's not always easy to break a pacifier habit, it's a whole lot easier than breaking a thumb-sucking one. I have a thirty-something year old friend who still does it for comfort or when stressed!

Every child is different; it takes different things to keep different babies happy. Do whatever works for you and your family. A soothed and calm baby makes for a happy household. I say get it however you can!

What are YOUR thoughts and experiences on this hot topic? As always, I’m here every Monday to answer any Ecobaby questions you may have, just comment here with them, or pop me an email!

Xoxo Melanie


photo: pinterest

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