Dummy, paci, binky – The pacifier has many names, and it comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Every parent has a different pet name for the pacifier. This cherished baby accessory is beloved by infants and a source of intense debate for parents. Should you use a pacifier, or avoid them completely?
Pacifiers have been making headlines this week. Ever since a photographer snapped a photo of Suri Cruise, the almost five-year-old daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, walking around with her binky in her mouth.
What are the pros and cons of pacifier use? And when should you start weaning your children off the binky?
The issue surrounding pacifier use isn’t as black and white as you might think. Some parents absolutely love the pacifier, while other moms and dads think they should be banished from the face of the earth. Before making your own decision, you need to weigh the pros and cons of pacifier use.
Benefits of Pacifier Use: The Pros
Ask any mom who has gotten a moment of peace after giving her inconsolable baby a pacifier, and she’ll tell you exactly why she loves them. Here are the top three reasons why you should consider using a pacifier.
1. Pacifiers Satisfy the Suck Reflex.
Babies have a natural instinct to suck. While in the womb, some babies like to suck their thumbs and fingers. The sucking reflex is important when it comes to breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. But beyond their nutritional needs, sucking has a soothing, calming effect on babies. Sucking makes infants feel secure and happy, and it helps them learn about the world around them.
2. Using a Pacifier Helps Baby Self-Soothe
Some infants are happiest when they have something to suck on – whether this is their thumb or a pacifier. The act of sucking releases chemicals in the baby’s brain that decrease his stress level. (Yes, babies can feel stressed.)
Giving a fussy or colicky baby a pacifier can comfort and soothe him. It may also help your baby fall asleep.
When a baby doesn’t have a pacifier, he can self-soothe using his fingers or thumb. Finger and thumb sucking can become lasting habits that damage teeth if they’re allowed to continue when your child’s permanent teeth come in. Although it can be difficult to break a pacifier habit, it’s much harder to get your child to stop sucking his thumb.
3. Pacifier Use Protects Against SIDS
One of the major reasons you should consider using a pacifier is that it protects babies against SIDS – sudden infant death syndrome. In fact, researchers have found a link between pacifier use and a reduced risk of SIDS. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents offer their baby a pacifier when napping or going to sleep. (If the pacifier falls out after your baby falls asleep, don’t place it back in your child’s mouth.)
If you’re breastfeeding, you will want to wait until your baby is one month old before giving him a binky. Pacifier use under one month can interfere with breastfeeding success.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure why using a pacifier lowers the risk of SIDS, but a leading theory is that babies who suck on a pacifier may not sleep as deeply, and they can wake up more easily. Another theory suggests that the pacifier keeps the oral airway open since it pushes the tongue forward. This makes it easier for your baby to get the oxygen he needs.
The Negatives of Pacifier Use: The Cons
Pacifiers aren’t for everyone, and breastfeeding mothers might not be such fans of these baby accessories. Here are the cons of pacifier use, and why you might want to avoid using a pacifier completely.
1. Early Pacifier Use Can Interfere with Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby, since it’s full of antibodies, nutrients, vitamins, and fats in all the right amounts. Unfortunately, breastfeeding isn’t always the easiest. When a baby is introduced to a pacifier too soon, he may have difficulty learning how to breastfeed properly. After all, sucking on a breast is different than sucking on a pacifier or a bottle.
Introducing the pacifier to your baby too soon may reduce stimulation from suckling, which will gradually decrease your breast milk product. For this reason, doctors recommend that breastfeeding mothers wait until the baby is latching on and nursing well before introducing the pacifier. This process often takes three to four weeks.
2. Baby May Become Too Dependent on the Pacifier
One of the downsides of your baby using a pacifier for comfort is that he may become too attached to his binky. Your baby can get so obsessed with his pacifier that he cries in the middle of the night when the pacifier falls out. Your child may not be able to fall asleep on his own without his paci.
When it’s time to break the pacifier habit, this can cause you a ton of stress. Fortunately, not all babies get this attached to their pacifier. It’s simple to wean some children off the pacifier, and it’s harder for others.
3. Pacifier Use is Linked to Higher Ear Infections
Using a pacifier may reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but it’s associated with an increase in ear infections. In a study reported in the journal Pediatrics, pacifier use lead to 40 percent more ear infections. Researchers don’t know why pacifiers increase ear infections, but it may be related to the change in pressure between the middle ear and upper throat.
Interestingly, children who stopped using a pacifier regularly after they reach six months old experience one-third fewer middle ear infections than babies who still use pacifiers.
Keep this in mind: Rates of middle ear infections are generally their lowest between birth and six months old – the same time frame when the SIDS risk is the highest.
(Just some food for thought: exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months will decrease the risk of ear infections.)
4. Prolonged Pacifier Use May Cause Dental Problems
Normal pacifier use in the first few years of your child’s life won’t cause any long-time dental problem. However, if your child is still using a pacifier when the front top teeth come in, this can cause the teeth to slant outward, or not come in correctly.
Dental problems can also occur when a child uses pacifiers for a long time during the day, over many months. The risk of dental problems is greater when the pacifier has been dipped in sugar or sweets. Dental problems include cavities, crooked teeth, and gum recession.
Pacifier Weaning – When Should You Get Rid of the Binky?
Using a pacifier has pros and cons, and only you can decide if a binky is right for you. But one of the most important aspects of pacifier use is knowing when to wean your child off the binky.
Some pediatricians suggest that you start banishing the pacifier between nine and twelve months old. Others may recommend that you aim to stop pacifier use by the time your child is 18 months old. The choice is up to you.