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The Benefits of Pacifiers for Infants
As a new parent, comforting your baby is one of your highest priorities. No parent wants to think they can’t soothe their crying infant. It’s heart-wrenching to hear. I know from experience watching infants for over fifteen years, that all you want in the end is to make your baby feel better.
From my article How to Soothe a Crying Baby, you know that there aren’t many reasons that an infant may be crying. But in the case of simply a fussy baby that cannot be soothed, you may find a pacifier very helpful.
It’s in a baby’s nature to suck in order to soothe herself. Some babies can be soothed with rocking and cuddling and are content to suck only during feedings. Others just can't seem to suckle enough, even when they're not hungry. If your little one still shows you that she wants to suck, even after she's had her fill of formula or breast milk, a pacifier may be just the perfect fix.
A pacifier isn't a substitute for nurturing or feeding, of course, but if you've utilized all of my tips for soothing your baby and she's still fussy, you might want to see if a pacifier will satisfy her. Sometimes a simple pacifier, especially if she’s too young yet to suck on her thumb or fingers, is all she needs.
There's another benefit to using a pacifier: Some studies have shown that babies who use pacifiers while they are sleeping have a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). These studies don't show that the pacifier itself prevents SIDS, just that there's a strong association between pacifier use and a lower risk of SIDS. We’ll talk about this more below.
Also, a pacifier habit is easier to break than a thumb-sucking habit. After all, you can dispose of a binky! (Baby Center) You'd think something as small as a pacifier wouldn't cause such a big ruckus. But it seems that moms and dads either rave over them or revile them. But who's right?
Would you be comfortable giving your little one a pacifier?
Using a Pacifier vs Thumb Sucking
Babies are born with the natural urge to suck, and whether they satisfy it with something that you give them, or something that they find themselves, it can lull them to sleep or calm them when they are upset. Even with the numerous studies that have been conducted on the topic, pediatricians all over the world are still divided over the recommended method for satisfying this need.
Thumb sucking has many pros and cons. It just so happens that it's biggest pro is also its biggest con. It's readily available and easy to find. You don’t have to keep replacing it when it falls out, and you don’t have to go hunting for one when you need it. Thumb sucking increases the baby's independence to soothe herself, teaching her that it’s okay if you’re not holding her or paying attention to her every second, and sparing you from repeated crying all day and throughout the night when the paci falls out.
On the flip side, because of its accessibility, thumb sucking is a hard habit to break. It offers a constant temptation when a little one is tired, upset or scared, and is hard to take away or get rid of. If not monitored after baby 6 months or a year old, this habit can also cause damage physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Pacifiers, however, are something you can offer your little one before he has the ability to suck on his fingers or thumbs. You can keep one close at all times (by purchasing them in truckloads) and even keep them rather clean. Thumbs cannot be kept quite as clean and cannot be monitored quite as well.
Pacifier use and thumb sucking are natural, easy and effective ways that your baby can comfort herself. It can offer a fussy baby the satisfaction she is looking for even after all of her basic needs have been met.
While both of these options are great and can give you the same peace of mind that your baby is comforted and happy, they each have their advantages and disadvantages that you will have to weigh yourself.
Although parents can introduce the one they feel is best, many babies may prefer one over the other. Your infant will usually let you know his preference right away.
Since neither pacifiers nor thumb sucking has long-term negative effects as long as they are used in moderation and closely monitored, parents simply need to find the method that works best for their baby and their family. (Suite101)
Pacifiers vs Thumb Sucking
Many parents have a lot of concerns about pacifiers and their children. Even though just about every decision you'll make for your baby will have it's pros and cons, parents have a right to be concerned about this one
If pacifier usage is not monitored, or they are not used correctly, there are plenty of consequences that can result from using them.
-Pacifiers should be kept as clean as possible, and not be cleaned in a parent's mouth
-Pacifiers should not have clips that are long enough to wrap around an infant's neck
-Pacifiers should be an appropriate size for the child's age
-Children should not be allowed to use their pacifier after 6 months to 1 year of age
-Pacifiers should not be used to simply quell an infant's cries,or be used in place of food, water, or other basic need
If you're not completely sold on pacifiers, or have more concerns than good feelings about them, check out my article on The Benefits of Thumb Sucking in Infants for another natural option.
The Benefits of Using a Pacifier
Pacifiers are wonderful baby items and there are many good reasons to use them. Any parent who has gotten a moment of peace and quiet, or helped their baby fall asleep, with a pacifier will tell you how wonderful they can be. But a bit of peace and soothing isn't the only good reason to use a pacifier. Check out some of these amazing benefits that you will never have considered!
- Protection against SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents giving their little one a pacifier during their first year of life to help her fall asleep. Sucking on a pacifier while sleeping actually has a protective effect against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Babies that sleep with a pacifier have a 61% reduction in their risk of SIDS, which is clearly a lifesaving benefit.
- Use the pacifier when putting baby down to sleep, but don't put it back in baby's mouth once he's already asleep. (Baby Zone)
- Sucking stimulates the release of chemicals in the baby’s brain that actually decrease stress and it’s harmful effects.
- It satisfies the sucking reflex. Pediatrician Laura Jana, co-author with Shu of Heading Home with Your Newborn, says some babies have a need to suck that exceeds the time they get on the bottle or breast. For these infants, a pacifier can meet this very real need.
- For babies that don’t get the satisfaction, or sucking, that they need during their first year of life, studies have shown they end up turning to other objects to satisfy this need later in life, like smoking, drinking, or over-eating.
- A pacifier offers a temporary distraction just when you need it the most. A pacifier might come in handy during shots, blood tests, or other procedures.
- A pacifier may help a baby having trouble settling down to fall asleep. If you have a little one struggling to go to sleep or stay asleep, this might just do the trick.
- Helping babies pacify themselves. Infants need ways to soothe themselves, as it teaches the independence they will need as toddlers, children, teenagers, and adults, from the very beginning. A pacifier can also be a source of comfort for a crying or colicky baby.
- Easier weaning. When it’s time for your little one to stop, it's much easier to wean him from a pacifier than from his own thumb. (WebMD)
Reasons Not to Use a Pacifier
Although there are many wonderful things that pacifiers can offer, there are several down sides as well. Even though you do need to be aware of what these disadvantages are, be aware that they only come into play when pacifier usage is not monitored and when they are used incorrectly. As long as you are not making these mistakes, you have nothing to worry about.
- According to a study reported in Pediatrics magazine, pacifiers may lead to 40% more ear infections in children. They suspect it may be due to a change in pressure between the middle ear and upper throat that happens around 6 months of age in infants.
- However, another study showed that children who stopped using pacifiers regularly after the age of six months had more than a third fewer middle ear infections than children who use them," Rod Moser, PA, PhD, writes in his WebMD blog "All Ears."
- See my article on The Truth About Ear Infections for more information on this topic. Ear infections are common in children ages 6 months and up. As long as you wean your child off of pacifiers at this time, this threat does not apply to you.
- Babies who continue to suck on a pacifier after the age of 6 months to a year may change their tooth alignment or delay speech. This especially becomes important when the child becomes a toddler and does not give up the pacifier.
- Sucking a pacifier at this age can lock the mouth into an unnatural position causing many dental problems (and medical bills) later on. Additionally, trying to talk around a pacifier may decrease normal speaking and learning progression.
- Parents can mistakenly offer a pacifier when baby really needs nutrition or other basic need, such as a breast or bottle, sleep, or to be held close. This includes diagnosis of sickness, as many parents simply stick a pacifier in their little one’s mouths when they are crying to quiet them. Infants cry for a good reason. Before offering a pacifier, that reason needs to be identified. (WebMD)
When Should I Start Using a Pacifier?
If you're breastfeeding your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that you wait at least a month before introducing a pacifier to your little one so that he or she may become proficient at nursing before getting to know something new. Sucking on a pacifier and sucking on a breast are different actions. So when babies are offered a pacifier before they get the hang of nursing it can interfere with successful breastfeeding.
(Check out the video above for some new news on giving newborns pacifiers from the beginning that supports pacifier use as encouraging breastfeeding rather than the other way around.)
This first month also allows you to get to know your baby’s feeding patterns and needs, and allows your body to establish its milk supply. There’s no reason to disrupt this natural progress. Getting used to breastfeeding is difficult enough for new mothers, without adding in other factors.
However, if your baby is nursing well, gaining weight, and has a routine feeding schedule, you may decide to introduce a pacifier a little sooner. (Baby Center) Let your baby guide your decision about how soon to begin.
If she seems to love the pacifier right off the bat, then let her have it. But if she resists, don't force it. You can try again another time if you like or just respect her preference and let it go. You’ve heard that babies should try something at least seven (7) times before you give up on it. Many times, they are simply resisting because it’s new.
Are There Times When a Baby Definitely Should Not Be Given a Pacifier?
There will definitely be times when using a pacifier is not the right decision for your little one. Babies cry and babies fuss. This is simply their way of communicating with you. They may cry or fuss to tell you a number of things, like they need a diaper change, to be fed (again), that they are tired and are having trouble falling asleep, or even that they just want to be close to you. Sometimes the cry means that they just need some soothing, and a pacifier fits the bill. There a plenty of other reasons as well.
Many parents take advantage of the pacifier as a catch all from keeping a baby quiet, to having some time to themselves, to simply trying to make them happy. However, if there is a real need, and you are simply used to quelling even the softest fuss with a pacifier, you will miss these important cues she is trying to give you. Before even considering giving your baby a pacifier, make sure that any other need that he may have has been attended to, or at least attempted.
That being said, sometimes you cannot feed your little one, change their diaper, or even hold them, like when you are driving or loading the car with groceries. In these instances, a pacifier can be a godsend until you are able to devote some attention to him.
Pacifiers protect infants from SIDS
They support babies need for sucking
They help babies to soothe themselves
They Help babies to go to sleep
You have to wean them off around 6 months
They encourage neglect from parents
If allowed to use pacifier after age 1, they could suffer from
Even when a pacifier might be appropriate for the time and place, there are some simple guidelines that should never be broken. Never tie a pacifier around your baby's neck or to her crib.
In fact, pacifier clips should never be longer than 4 inches or so, and should not have anything on them that could come off easily or go down your child’s throat. She could very easily strangle in the cord or ribbon. It is safe, however, to attach the pacifier to her clothes with a clip made especially for the job.
Don't share a pacifier between children, and don't clean a dirty one in your own mouth. Adults' mouths have plenty of germs that can transmit just as many viruses and bacteria to babies, if not even more.
The professionals recommend washing your pacifiers with soap and water, or at least giving them a good rinse with water before giving them back to your baby. Pacifier clips are great for keeping pacifiers off of the floor in the first place.
Make sure to replace your pacifiers if you see any loose parts or signs of deterioration. And finally, pacifiers come in a variety of shapes, sizes and appropriateness for different ages.
Make sure that you’re pacifiers are the right size, shape, and developmental level for your child. Many newborn pacifiers are so small that they are able to be swallowed, or choked on, by older babies. (Mayo Clinic)
Will a Pacifier Interfere with the Development of My Child's Teeth?
If children are allowed to continue sucking on a pacifier well into their childhood years, this habit will definitely threaten their proper dental development. Even when they simply have baby teeth, their bodies, and their mouths, are growing, and the presence of a pacifier where teeth should be growing will change the way they grow.
It is suggested that after 6 months of age, when they start eating solid foods, the pacifier should slowly be weaned out of their daily life. This way during the formative years for their teeth and gums, there will be no hindrance to healthy development. However, it's unlikely that your child will need a pacifier for that long anyway.
If you are concerned about this being a problem with your little one, talk to your pediatrician or your child’s dentist about checking that your child's jaw and teeth are doing fine. At the very least, permanent adult teeth begin coming in around 5 or 6 years of age, and that is when the danger is the highest.
Won’t This Become a Bad Habit That We’ll Have to Break Later?
Sucking on a pacifier can easily become a bad habit if it is not closely monitored, and many parents don't want to introduce one in the first place because they don't want to deal with having to take it away later. As long as you are attentive to your little one’s needs and don’t turn to a pacifier for any and all reasons, you are probably safe from this.
If you are okay with your baby using a pacifier but are worried about the battles later, take the time to start the weaning process around 6 months. It’s as easy as not providing the pacifier so often and hiding them from sight, to making the pacifier only a bedtime or nap time thing. Slowly “forget” to give them the pacifier at bedtime, or accidentally lose them, and instead distract them with a great story, their teddy bear/security blanket, and/or a glass of water instead.
At the very least, make sure to take away the pacifier several months before his first birthday. Taking care not to overuse the pacifier can help avoid overdependence. For more tips on this weaning process, check out our article on How to Wean Your Child Off of the Pacifier.
When is It Time to Give Up the Pacifier?
Because the risk of these infections is generally lower in young babies, using a pacifier until your baby's half birthday (when his need to suck is greatest) and weaning him from it soon after may work just fine, especially if he's prone to ear infections.
There’s nothing wrong with giving your child a pacifier, as sucking is normal and natural and can help to make your life, and his, a lot easier. Just take care to follow the guidelines and start weaning him off around 6 months to one year of age.
As every decision you make about your baby will have pros and cons, it’s important that you do your research to decide if this is going to be right for you, your family, and your little one.
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© 2013 Victoria Van Ness