So is a pacifier good or bad? My answer to this is it depends.
Let’s start with the good….
Dummies have the wonderful ability to help trigger the sucking reflex in children and can also (according to Dr. Harvey Karb) help them access their calming reflex. It also gives breastfeeding mothers a wonderful rest from their children who seem to constantly want to suck on their tired and worn out breasts for comfort.
“Contrary to popular belief, there are some positive effects that result from sucking on pacifiers,” says Jane Soxman, DDS, author of a pacifier study and Diplomate of the American Board of Paediatric Dentistry. “One, is that they assist in reducing the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies who are offered a pacifier do not sleep as deeply as those who sleep without a pacifier. Pacifier sucking makes it possible for the infant to be aroused from a deep sleep that could result in the stopping of breathing. Pacifiers also increase sucking satisfaction and provide a source of comfort to infants.” (Read more about this here)
Now the bad….
The problem is that dummies are so very often overused by parents. Instead of the dummy becoming a “last resort” type of tool, moms use it for EVERYTHING. Baby says ah: dummy; baby says ooh: dummy; baby doesn’t say ANYTHING: dummy.
If a parent continues to offer a baby or child a dummy without first establishing why the baby is crying, it can also cause a parent to misread a hunger cue or to fail to recognise his/her child’s needs at all. The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend the use of dummies in breastfeeding infants (Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015) as research has found a relation between dummy use and babies not being breastfed for as long as those who were not introduced to a dummy.
And unfortunately, the ugly….
When it comes to sleep, we have worked with a countless cases where a dummy has become a child’s sleep crutch or prop. The problem is that when a child transitions between sleep cycles at night, he/she would want the same “environment” as when they initially fell asleep. If a baby fell asleep with his/her dummy in the mouth and it has fallen out during the night, the baby wakes up mom or dad to help find it and put it back. The result is that parents are on dummy drill, and babies do not receive restorative and consolidated sleep.
The following can also occur with the overuse of the dummy:
- Prolonged pacifier use and thumb sucking can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth and changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth.
- There is also an association between pacifier use and acute middle ear infections (Read more here).
- When used past the age of 12 months, dummies have been linked to speech problems in some children who may not have enough opportunity to babble and enunciate when younger and who talk with their dummies in their mouth as they get older.
- Using a dummy affects the development and indentations in the palate.
Please remember: safety first:
If you are going to use a dummy, use it correctly:
- The pacifier should be used when placing the infant down for sleep and not be reinserted once the infant falls asleep.
- Pacifiers should not be coated in any sweet solution.
- Pacifiers should be cleaned often and replaced regularly.
- For breastfed infants, delay pacifier introduction until 1 month of age to ensure that breastfeeding is firmly established.
- Pacifiers should never be used to replace or delay meals and should be offered only when the caregiver is certain the child is not hungry.
- Pacifiers should have ventilation holes and a shield wider than the child’s mouth (at least ¼ inches in diameter).
- Pacifiers should be one piece and made of a durable material, and should be replaced when worn, and never tied by a string to the crib or around a child’s neck or hand (Source).
Different schools of thought:
The “Teach Him To Get It Himself” Crowd
The problem with teaching a child to put the dummy back in his mouth is that it won’t happen until at least 9 months. So you will have interrupted sleep (as well as your child) until your child reaches this age. There are certain groups that say, that even when you do teach your child to put it back in his mouth he is STILL getting interrupted sleep because he is looking for the dummy at night.
The “It Helps For Reflux” Crowd
Dummies are also known to help if a child has reflux. Some babies with reflux do not have a problem with food refusal; they eat and eat and eat. These babies find nursing to be soothing because each sip of milk washes down some acid from reflux. The problem may be that they continue to nurse long past the time they need to fill their tummies. They nurse to the point that they seem to vomit every time they eat. If this description fits your baby, pacifier use may be a help. If the pacifier is given when the baby is not nursing for food (sucking slowly and less frequently, with minimal swallowing), it may be soothing to him and also provide a relief to you. The careful use of a pacifier may help your baby keep from overfilling his tummy and subsequently vomiting (Source). Sucking on a pacifier can increase saliva production, which as an alkaline that helps neutralize some of the acid that may come up. To read more about pacifier use for children with Reflux click here.
The “I Don’t Want My Child To Suck His Thumb” Crowd
For babies, sucking on thumbs and fingers is a natural and intuitive process. Celebrate that they have the ability to self soothe and that they will be better sleepers as a result.
Some parents have reported that their babies spontaneously stopped sucking on their thumbs or fingers on or around their first birthday. If that does not happen, then you will want to engage in behaviour management techniques around 2 years old to stop any finger and thumb sucking while awake and then again around 3 to 4 years old for the sleep association.
So how do I get rid of the dummy?
- Go cold turkey – You’re the parent and you have the power to take the pacifier away—at least that’s the theory. If you think the best approach with your child (and for your sanity) is to just say NO, this is your method of choice.
- “Lose” it – This may come as a revelation: Next time you’re frantically looking for your child’s precious pacifier, stop. If it’s lost, let it be lost.
- Read books about it – Story time is a wonderful time to cuddle with your children and encourage a love of books and reading. But you can also use books to inspire the behaviour you’d like to see and help children deal with changes—such as giving up the pacifier.
- Make it taste bad – You’re probably familiar with the idea of stopping nail-biters by painting their nails with something that tastes unpleasant. A similar method sometimes works to separate children from their pacifiers.
- Sabotage it – Even though safety experts and doctors warn against using pacifiers that show signs of wear or breakage, many parents tell stories of altering the pacifier in some way that makes it unsatisfying to suck on. Their tactics vary from poking an almost invisible hole in the tip to lopping off the rubbery part down to the nub.
- Give it away – If your child is old enough to understand the concept, giving the pacifier away or trading it for something special might help to end the addiction.
My take on the whole “dummy debate” is that if we really needed a dummy as a form of survival, surely we would have welcomed the word with it in our mouths. Instead, we got fingers, and nipples and other things to help us sooth. I am really supportive of the use of a dummy, and in fact my son is currently still a real dummy-junky. But when the dummy starts affecting children’s sleep as well as ours, we should make an informed decision about what is best for our children—and us—in the long term.