As a midwife and child health nurse who works closely with babies and children from birth to five years old, I have discovered some useful insight into the use of pacifiers for babies that I would like to share with you. The decision to use a pacifier or not will be up to you.
Not all babies take to sucking a pacifier but there are certainly babies in the world who do benefit from sucking one. Once you have heard my findings the decision to use one or not will then be up to you.
Six positive reasons for a baby to use a pacifier
1. Babies who are three to four weeks old who have learnt to attach and nurse well from the breast may need to continue non – nutritive sucking for comfort or stress relief. In this situation, the nursing mother and her nipples could do with some relief and possibly repair from constant sucking. It is however, important not to substitute a breast feed for a pacifier as this can reduce milk production resulting in an undernourished and unsettled baby.
2. A baby sucking a pacifier can reduce tummy discomfort, cranial discomfort and wind pain until the cause of the pain and discomfort is diagnosed and relieved. However, by aiding the digestive process this then can cause them to become hungrier earlier than anticipated.
3. Sucking a pacifier can reduce the pain of gastro oesophageal reflux allowing for a bit more sleep for everyone.
4. Recent knowledge indicates a baby sucking a pacifier can reduce the incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). This is thought to be due to a baby being in a more alert state of sleep and having their airways in a more open position allowing for better air entry. There are also other factors relating to the reduction of SIDS
5. Premature babies are given pacifiers to help them suck when they are fed via a nasogastric tube and to stimulate their suck before they are able to nurse efficiently. Research indicates this helps reduces their stay in NICU.
6. Commonly, a baby who is fed either breast milk or infant formula from a bottle requires a pacifier to build up the length of sucking time they require in a day.
Seven reasons why a baby is disadvantaged using a pacifier
1. There is an increased risk of bacterial infection from dirty pacifiers. Sterilise them regularly and throw out any that have cracks or worn areas where bacteria can settle
2. The continued use of a pacifier after three or four months can set up strong sleep associations that can lead to unsettled sleep in the months that follow
3. The regular and frequent use of a pacifier has been shown to decrease the length of time a mother will continue to nurse
4. A young baby who sucks too often on a pacifier can be too tired for nutritional nursing or bottle feeding
5. The use of a pacifier after nine months can not only disturb good sleep patterns but it can also interfere with speech development
6. Worn out or faulty pacifiers can be a choking hazard
7. Sucking on a pacifier when your baby should be awake and babbling, restricts the natural development of language
Which pacifier to choose?
There are many pacifiers on the market and it can be difficult to know which one is best. Consider one that closely mimics your breast nipple.
1. Look for the pacifier that is soft and supple. Brown latex rubber is usually the softest
2. Choose a shape that is similar to your nipple, this is usually the round cherry or bulb shaped pacifier. Large or small depends on your nipple size
3. It needs to be large enough to reach the soft palate in your baby’s mouth but not too far back to touch the ‘gag reflex’. This will depend on the size of your baby’s mouth
With the above information in mind, I believe there can be a place for pacifiers for some babies, providing that it is an appropriate pacifier used at an appropriate time and preferably for the first four months of life when a baby’s strong sucking reflex is present. After this age (with guidance) babies discover other ways to soothe themselves and pacifiers can then be discarded.
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This article was brought to you by Jan Murray, Private Child Health Consultant who is an internationally renowned expert in her field. Jan encourages parents in the area of infant sleep,nutrition , activities and family balance. She publishes regular ezine and blog articles to provide free parenting tips, tools and resources to educate and support those caring for young babies and children.