9 Pros and Cons of Using Pacifiers for Babies

While awaiting the arrival of a baby, parents make many preparations. They buy a crib, a stroller, and lots of onesies. Additionally, they make plans regarding infant care.

One of these plans may involve whether or not to use a pacifier. Pacifiers have gotten a bad rap recently, but does that mean that you should resolve to never use one? Or are pacifiers not really such a bad thing?

The reality is that all babies are born with a strong natural urge to suck. This is what helps babies succeed at breastfeeding, but their need to suck often goes beyond that. Many babies derive comfort from sucking, even when they're not hungry. Because of this, it may do no good to try to breastfeed a fussy baby who isn't hungry. A pacifier may be the way to go instead.

First, it's critical to understand what pacifiers are, where they came from, and some useful guidelines. Then, you may make a more informed decision that makes sense for you and your baby.

What Is a Pacifier?

The nipple-shaped accessory known as the pacifier is inserted into a baby's mouth to provide comfort. The sucking reflex that is natural to all babies may be compelling even in an infant who is no longer hungry.

Pacifiers are designed to resemble a nipple, so when babies suck on them, they feel safer and more secure. For this reason, most babies take to pacifier usage with ease.

The Background on the Pacifier

Even in ancient times, parents recognized the value of providing their babies with something to suck on when they didn't require feeding. The earliest precursor of the modern pacifier was the rattles that parents used in ancient Rome. These tools were meant to not only soothe a fussy infant but also to ward off evil spirits.

Eventually, the idea of a rattle became refined into an accessory that was more akin to the modern pacifier. Instead of being a manufactured product, these early pacifiers were made of natural substances like coral, stone beads, wooden beads, pieces of animal bones, or knotted rags.

It was not until 1898 that a New Jersey inventor named Thomas Borcher developed a pacifier that more closely resembles what parents use today. Borcher's invention, which he called a "nipple holder," received a patent for a device that was equipped with a fake nipple for babies to suck. By 1902, retailer Sears and Roebuck was selling a similar pacifier.

Are Pacifiers Bad for Your Baby?

baby reaching for pacifier

Even in 1879, before Borcher patented his nipple holder invention, the pacifier had its naysayers. A German pediatrician by the name of Linden was against pacifier usage, stating that giving a baby a pacifier would lead to not only facial deformities but also immorality.

Linden thought that encouraging a baby to suck on a pacifier would lead him to pursue a pleasure-seeking, indolent life. However, scientific knowledge has increased since then. We know now that a baby's reflex for sucking is natural, normal, and healthy and carries with it no fear that the baby will develop immoralities.

However, it does not necessarily follow that pacifiers are a completely positive thing and should be provided to a child without restrictions. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that it is never a good idea to use a pacifier to replace or delay a meal or simply because it's easier for mom.

Other Concerns with Modern Pacifier Usage

"Nipple confusion" may be a term that is new to you, but many moms today are concerned about setting up their infants for confusion between the breast and the pacifier.

With nipple confusion, an infant is said to have difficulty changing between the pacifier and the breast. This means that a baby may choose to keep sucking on a pacifier even when they are hungry and are offered a breast.

Is this a real problem for babies? Experts don't always see eye-to-eye on this issue.

Author of Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding, Dr. Marianne Neifert declares that the majority of babies have no problem switching from a fake nipple to the real thing. In fact, she argues that only infants who already have problems with breastfeeding are likely to show a preference for fake nipples. Accordingly, the condition may be more precisely called "nipple preference" rather than "nipple confusion."

To prevent the chances of an infant developing a nipple preference or confusion, noted expert Dr. Sears recommends not giving an infant a pacifier for at least the first three to four weeks after birth. This not only helps the baby to develop a reliance on its mother's breast but also helps to regulate the mother's milk.

Even the La Leche League weighs in on this issue by offering the following guidelines:

  • Wait to use a pacifier until breastfeeding is established.
  • If supplementation is required, consider alternative choices such as a supplemental nursing system or a feeding cup.
  • Carefully watch the baby for hunger cues so that feedings begin when needed.
  • Use lots of skin-to-skin contact.
  • Make certain that friends, family, and hospital staff are informed about your preferences for pacifier usage.

The Pros and Cons of Using a Pacifier

Babies are born with a strong suck reflex. This helps to ensure that infants get the nutrition that they need to grow healthy and strong. Additionally, sucking between mealtimes can provide an improved sense of security. This is just one of the reasons why it may make sense to keep a few pacifiers on hand. Here are some others:

Pro No. 1: Pacifiers Can Be Soothing

When an infant needs to be comforted or to feel a greater degree of contentment, a pacifier can definitely fit the bill.

Pro No. 2: Makes Travel Smoother

You know how air travel makes your ears pop as elevation increases or decreases? The same is true for your baby, and this can be an alarming and even painful sensation. Sucking on a pacifier is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to ease air travel discomfort.

Pro No. 3: Relieves Fussiness

Is your baby fussy but not showing any signs of interest in feeding? If so, then his fussiness may be relieved by the use of a pacifier.

Pro No. 4: Helps with Sleep

Many infants are better able to fall asleep and stay asleep with the aid of a pacifier. Do not be concerned about removing the pacifier while a baby is sleeping. This may startle and distress him or her.

Pro No. 5: Benefits for Premature Babies

Premature babies sometimes have impaired sucking abilities. For them, using a pacifier is critical because it helps them to develop a stronger suck. This means that they will be better able to feed.

Pro No. 6: Reduces Risk of SIDS

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, also known as SIDS, is a term that's used to refer the sudden and unexpected death of a baby. Although SIDS may occur at any time, it is more likely to occur during sleep.

Medical experts believe that SIDS sometimes is caused by suffocation on excess bedding or a poor sleeping position. Pacifiers may help to reduce the risk of SIDS by keeping airways wider, which means that the baby can breathe more easily.

Con No. 1: May Interfere with Breastfeeding

Doctors warn that it is unwise to introduce a pacifier to a newborn who is less than one month in age. There is a risk that this could lead to nipple confusion and interfere with proper feeding.

Con No. 2: May Cause Dental or Speech Issues

Prolonged pacifier use may cause dental problems or speech issues. Pediatricians recommend trying to wean an infant from a pacifier at around six months of age and at the latest between the ages of two and four. Pacifier usage beyond this age may cause significant problems.

Con No. 3: Increased Risk of Ear Infections

Some infants experience a greater number of middle ear infections because of using contaminated pacifiers. Keep pacifiers clean to minimize this risk.

How to Encourage a Baby to Stop Pacifier Use

With these tips, it may be easier to discontinue pacifier usage:

  • Give baby a toy instead
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Snuggle with mom
  • Limit pacifier use to certain events, like naptime

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