Pacifiers are such a tricky issue. Many babies are given pacifiers while still in the hospital. Tired, frustrated parents unprepared to have realistic expectations of newborn needs turn to pacifiers out of frustration. Doctors, nurses, and midwives, perhaps lacking the time, energy, or skill to help breastfeeding moms, suggest pacifiers to mothers who actually need breastfeeding counseling. And while most people downplay the role that pacifiers have in creating “nipple confusion”, the truth is that there are some other very important things to consider when making the decision to use a pacifier.
1) Babies are weaned from the breast earlier
There are multiple studies that have found a link between pacifier use and early weaning. You can find one here, and here, and here. Although many of the studies don’t point directly to a reason why this might be true, one theory is that mothers who use pacifiers are more likely to already be having breastfeeding issues, and turn to pacifiers out of frustration. One large issue that I see with pacifiers is that they can allow parents to miss early hunger cues, or use pacifiers to “hold off” baby from feeding for a period of time. When early hunger cues are missed, the only sign that baby is hungry can be crying, and it is very difficult to initiate breastfeeding with a crying baby. (Well, it’s hard for any of us to eat while crying, and babies are no different.) Also, when parents use pacifiers in an attempt to space out feedings, not only does baby not get enough breastmilk, but mom’s supply will be negatively affected by not providing baby enough of an opportunity to nurse. Both of these scenarios can lead to frustrated parents, who then might wean before they originally intended to.
2) Pacifiers use is linked to more ear infections
This study found that children under the age of two were almost three times more likely to have ear infections. Another study found that when older babies are using pacifiers while in child care, they are much more likely to develop recurring ear infections. All of these things are very significant. Ear infections are no fun, we all know that. And since the AAP guidelines for treating ear infections have been changed to avoiding antibiotic use, prevention is something to consider.
3) Pacifiers are likely to be contaminated with yeast
Among other things. This study found that 44% of the pacifiers they examined had candida bacteria, and the children who had those pacifiers had oral yeast infections. And since some of the most popular treatments for yeast infections have been called into question for their safety, preventing thrush is an important thing to consider when advising parents on pacifier use.
4) Pacifiers cause long-term dental issues
Many studies have found links between pacifiers and dental caries, as well as decay. Additionally, pacifiers cause the teeth to grow outward and the roof of the mouth to be raised, which makes it much more likely that the child will need to have orthodontic care later in life to correct teeth issues.
Now, let me be clear: I’m not saying that pacifiers shouldn’t ever be used. However, I find parents can use them without thinking about the long-term possibilities of frequent pacifier use. Additionally, as is true with things like nipple shields, they are no substitute for parent education and breastfeeding support done by someone with appropriate skills to help moms with breastfeeding.
The comments are open, but are moderated, as always. I know this can be a heated topic, so please keep all comment evidence-based.