Babies have an intense need to suck, and some have more intense needs than others. Babies even suck their thumbs in the womb. Next to holding and feeding, sucking is the most time-tested comforter.
1. In the newborn nursery. Peer through any newborn nursery window and you’re sure to witness contented babies lying quietly in plastic boxes all plugged in with no place to go. Pull the plug on this scene. These babies should be plugged into their mothers.
2. In the early weeks of breastfeeding. When learning how to breastfeed, a baby should have only mother’s nipple in his mouth. About the only thing a newborn has to “learn” is how to suck on mother’s nipple the right way to get the most milk.
- A baby sucks on a pacifier differently than on mother’s nipples. Some newborns, develop nipple confusion when given a pacifier or bottle nipple when they are learning to suck from mother. Pacifiers have a narrow base, so baby doesn’t have to open his lips wide. This often results in poor latch-on techniques, sore nipples, and a difficult start at breastfeeding.
- Many sensitive babies gag on every pacifier you might try. The texture, taste, and smell are rejected hands down. Other babies make the transition from rubber to flesh nipples without any confusion or complaint.
- Our advice: Avoid pacifiers until your newborn learns to latch on properly and you have a good milk supply. If your own nipples are wearing out, or at least the mom they are attached to is, use your finger (or, better yet, get dad or someone else to give you a break). The skin-to-skin element is still there, and your index finger (or dad’s little finger) can be placed more properly in baby’s mouth to stimulate sucking at the breast. Many of our babies have been soothed by the touch of my well-scrubbed pinkie.
3. When pacifier overuse is harming the teeth. Between two and three years of age, toddlers can cause their upper front teeth to protrude by sucking intensely on a pacifier, especially at night.
4. As habitual substitutes for nurturing. Ideally, pacifiers are for the comfort of babies, not the convenience of parents (but I have yet to meet the ideal parent or the ideal baby and, believe it or not, you probably won’t meet any on this site.) To insert the plug and leave baby in the plastic infant seat every time he cries is unhealthy reliance on an artificial comforter. This baby needs picking up and holding. Always relying on an alternative peacemaker lessens the buildup of baby’s trust in the parents and denies the parents a chance to develop baby-comforting skills. Pacifiers are meant to satisfy intense sucking needs, not to delay or replace nurturing. A person should always be at the other end of a comforting tool. The breast (or the finger) has the built-in advantage of making sure you don’t fall into the habit of just plugging up the source of the cries as a mechanical gesture. When baby cries, if you find yourself, by reflex, reaching for the pacifier instead of reaching for your baby, pull the plug – and lose it.