Healthy Ways to Use a Pacifier
Is there a healthy way to use a pacifier? I don’t want to set up a dependence, but it seems like a good tool to have when a baby needs to quiet in public.
Research About Pacifiers
The pacifier is a popular peace-producing plug to temporarily substitute when a human “pacifier” wears out or isn’t available, or as you mention when out in public. Yet, in the past twenty years research has come to three conclusions:
- Babies who use pacifiers in the first six weeks of life tend to wean from the breast earlier.
- Babies who use pacifiers frequently are likely to get more ear infections.
- Prolonged use of pacifiers between the ages of eight months and two years, the top teething stages, is more likely to result in crooked upper teeth and other dental malalignments.
As a mother, I don’t remember using a pacifier for any of our children (I may have tried with our first couple) and most pediatricians continue to discourage artificial pacifier use. Yet, some babies do like them. If you choose to use one here are some guidelines:
Tip 1: Delay Pacifier Use if Breastfeeding
In my experience, pacifier use should be delayed for at least six weeks with a breastfeeding baby. This allows Baby the time to learn the most efficient way to suck to get the most milk and gives mother time to learn how to comfortably deliver the most milk. Sucking on a pacifier does just the opposite suck-training you want for efficient and comfortable nursing. During pacifier-sucking, a baby often tight-mouths the pacifier and doesn’t have to open her mouth as wide as during breastfeeding. You can imagine how these “ouch!” habits may translate into painful breastfeeding.
Tip 2: Persons are the Best Pacifiers
Just like the tip we give for bottle feeding – there should always be a person at both ends of the bottle – try to hold your baby and enjoy face-to-face interaction while baby is sucking on a pacifier. Yet, realistically there may be times when you simply must put a fussy baby in a safe infant seat and insert a pacifier while you tend to a needed task, during which time you can make voice contact with your baby. As I would watch Dr. Bill examine a baby, sometimes I would notice a baby be more content sucking on a pacifier, making it easier for him to do a more thorough examination. Or Mom would use the next strategy:
Tip 3: Knuckle It!
Many babies naturally gnaw on their knuckles as pacifiers to satisfy their oral gratification. That makes sense: those little knuckles are warm, fleshy, and always available. Sometimes when I needed a baby to be quieted, I would help him find his fingers or knuckles and learn how to suck on them. Knuckle-sucking is probably more dental-friendly than finger-sucking. Baby must open his mouth wider and he can’t push against the upper teeth as he can with finger- and thumb-sucking.
Frequent sucking is good for a baby because it produces saliva, which is like a natural health juice for tiny maturing intestines. Correct sucking, such as during breastfeeding, helps develop a wider dental arch. Watch a baby breastfeed and you will see the mouth is open wider and Baby’s tongue presses mother’s breast tissue up against the palate. This is one of the reasons breastfed babies tend to have a healthier dental alignment. Pacifier-sucking does just the opposite and if used too often for too long is more likely to cause malalignment of the oral cavity.
When your baby cries, if you find yourself quickly and by reflex reaching for the plastic pacifier instead of reaching for your baby, it’s time to pull the plug. Or, if you find baby is more often reaching for the pacifier than reaching for mommy or another caregiver, also pull the plug.
No doubt a question will at some time come in on how to wean toddlers from pacifiers, so stay tuned. In the meantime, most pediatricians give the standard pacifier advice: if a baby really needs it, use it, don’t abuse it, and quickly try to lose it.
Written By: Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”