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The Pros and Cons of Pacifiers

Your baby looks unhappy. She’s just started crying with her mouth open, eyes squeezed shut and fists clenched. Soon you’ll find yourself trying everything you can think of to get her to calm down – from breastfeeding, to rocking her, singing to her and even walking her in the stroller. But nothing works and you finally reach out for what you hope is going to put the crying to an end – your little one’s pacifier.

A majority of babies have a rather strong sucking reflex. Most of them even end up sucking their thumbs or fingers in the womb – and for good reason. Although it doesn’t offer any nutritional value, sucking basically has a calming and soothing effect over babies. It is for this reason that many parents these days believe pacifiers are a ‘must-have’ and rank them right along baby swings and diaper wipes.

If anything, most parents label pacifiers as ‘mommy magic’ – not only are they quick and easy, pacifiers go a long way in turning off the tears and turning on the comfort. However, before starting to use them, it is highly recommended for you to learn about the pros and cons of pacifiers. Here’s a brief look into them:

7 A pacifier can help save your baby’s life

A number of research studies have suggested that the utilization of a pacifier can go a long way in decreasing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS. Experts hold the belief that babies who continue to suck on a pacifier while sleeping might not be able to sleep as deeply and would wake up far more easily than babies who don’t suck on a pacifier. This is just what makes them less susceptible to SIDS.

Now, there’s another theory that associates the utilization of pacifiers to reduced risk of SIDS. The theory states that a pacifier can assist in opening up air space around a baby’s nose and mouth, which goes on to ensure that she receives adequate amounts of oxygen. It is for this reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken things forward and recommended the utilization of pacifiers for babies under the age of 1 at naptime and bedtime. However, it is best for you to wait until your baby is at least a month old or has gotten the hang of breastfeeding.

What else do experts have to say?

Experts claim that they have noticed a consistent protective effect from SIDS due to the utilization of a pacifier. Research studies have shown that using a pacifier can reduce the risk of SIDS by a full 61%, which suggests a clear lifesaving benefit. However, how pacifiers lower the risk of SIDS is still unknown. Experts have suggested several theories, but none of them have been proven. The one theory that most experts agree on is that of the pacifier improve the arousability of infants who may be faced with a potentially fatal challenge.

6 A pacifier can help soothe your baby

The amount of time that your baby spends crying is going to increase from birth until about 6 weeks, by when you can expect your precious bundle of joy to cry for about three hours a day. Just so you know, that can trigger a lot of crying stress. As obvious, sucking can help your baby calm down and stop crying, which is why pacifiers have gained such an immense amount of fame. According to research, nearly 75% babies in different parts of the world are given pacifiers – and for good reason. Nobody wants to see their infant crying, right?

Some babies are extremely fussy, but when given a pacifier to suck, they turn into the happiest babies on Earth. This is because sucking a pacifier makes them ‘feel good’, because it assists in stimulating the release of chemicals from the brain that are meant to help decrease stress. Of course your baby can self-soothe herself, but sucking her thumb may become a bit of a habit. Yes, sucking a pacifier can become a habit too, but breaking her habit of using a pacifier will typically be much easier than that of sucking her thumb.

Pacifiers offer an excellent temporary distraction

Children can get extremely fussy during and after blood tests, shots and other such procedures. With the help of a pacifier, you can help your baby calm down and stay relaxed during these procedures. So, if you truly want to keep your child happy and relaxed during shot and blood tests etc., it is best for you to give her a pacifier to suck both during and immediately after them. 

5 Pacifiers offer health benefits too

Although the health benefits offered by pacifiers are particularly focused on preterm babies, there’s no denying the fact that they exist. According to a research study conducted back in 1992, preemies that suck on pacifiers tend to gain weight much faster than those who don’t. Other research has also suggested that premature babies who use pacifiers soon after birth show earlier sucking patterns and face much fewer health complications with time. As experts claim, sucking basically encourages muscle development and oral muscle function, which shows how beneficial it can be to an infant’s well-being.

Another research study has suggested that sucking is associated with shorter stays in the hospital, improved bottle feeding and earlier transition to bottle feeding in premature babies. Although the research did not cite any impact of pacifiers on aspects like energy intake, weight gain, behavior, oxygen saturation and heart rate etc. what should be noted here is that it did not report any harmful effects of pacifier usage as well. On the whole, pacifiers have actually proven to be rather beneficial for preterm babies.

Dental health isn’t really a concern in children under three

There’s good news for parents who appreciate the peace and quiet that pacifiers have to offer – there’s no need for you to worry about your child’s dental health and how using a pacifier may impact it. Why is that so? That’s because research suggests that the utilization of a pacifier during the early years of development does NOT cause any permanent damage to a child’s jaws, teeth or even their positioning. However, long-term usage of pacifiers needs to be avoided. 

4 You can control your infant’s use of a pacifier

Only parents who have plunked a pacifier in their infant’s mouth just to calm her down for a while will understand how helpful it can be in times of desperate need. The best part is that unlike the thumb, sucking which is totally in your infant’s control, you have complete control over when your little bundle of joy is given the binky. Most of all, you get to decide when to stop giving her the pacifier so basically you decide when to pull the plug. Of course your little one may put up a bit of a fight, but at least you get to decide when she can have the pacifier. While you’re at it, keep in mind that breaking an infant’s thumb or finger-sucking habit can be totally nerve-wrecking, whereas research shows that getting a child to give up the pacifier is much easier.

When you decide to stop giving your infant the binky, the only thing you need to do is to throw it away. Yes, pacifiers are disposable so getting rid of them is fairly easy. On the other hand, if your baby sucks on her thumb or fingers, how exactly do you think you’ll get her to give up her habit? You can’t really chop off those precious fingers, can you? This makes breaking a child’s thumb or finger sucking habit much more difficult. Getting rid of a pacifier, on the other hand, is much easier because you just need to throw it away.

Sucking is natural for babies

For those who don’t know, babies are born wanting to suck. Believe it or not, but some babies even suck their thumbs or fingers in the womb too. It is basically a natural behavior that assists in their development and growth. To help your baby relax, it is hence recommended for you to give her a pacifier. 

3 The cons – there’s a risk of ear infections

Yes, the utilization of pacifiers comes with its downsides too. To begin with, it can lead to the development of Otitis Media or middle ear infection. A study performed in Finland showed that children who continuously sucked on a pacifier had far more ear infections as compared to children who did not. As experts have speculated, continuously sucking on a pacifier has the potential to alter the pressure within the middle ear chamber, thereby leading to the formation of ear infections. But what needs to be mentioned here is that the study did not go on to suggest that the utilization of pacifiers is the ONLY factor associated with the onset of ear infections.

Apart from that, the said study also associated prolonged or frequent use of pacifiers to a higher incidence of middle ear infections as opposed to restricted use. At the end of the study, experts suggested that parents should restrict the utilization of pacifiers to the moments of falling asleep between the ages of 6 and 10 months to reduce the risk of middle ear infections.

Details about middle ear infections

Also known as Otitis Media, ear infections happen to be one of the most common reasons for parents visiting the pediatrician. Studies have shown that nearly 25 million doctor visits a year account for children with ear infections. It is for this reason that health experts around the world are concerned about finding new ways to reduce the risk of ear infections. However, even if your baby has an ear infection, it will probably be harmless although rather painful.

2 Your baby may identify the pacifier as a sleep association

Some babies develop the tendency to use a pacifier to fall asleep. This is what turns the pacifier into a sleep association. What does that mean? It means that your baby may associate sucking on her pacifier with falling asleep – without it, she may find it just about impossible to go to sleep. What’s worse is that she will keep waking up from the deep part of her sleep when the pacifier falls out of her mouth. Although waking between sleep cycles is fairly natural, your little one is going to want the pacifier returned to her mouth to be able to go back to sleep – and trust me, things are definitely going to become nerve-wrecking for you in such a situation. If your little one is old enough, she may be able to find it herself, but as an infant, she is just going to cry out for you so may it give it back to her. This means that you will be woken quite a few times during the night – this is an area where thumb-sucking has a definite advantage over pacifiers.

Although some babies have no trouble whatsoever weaning the pacifier, but for most babies, they are found waking up screaming as hard as possible for their pacifier every 1-2 hours all through the night till they are at least 3 years old. In all that time, their parents are going to have to wake up at least 4,380 times to give the pacifier back to their screaming infant.

What’s a good time to get rid of the pacifier?

If you’re finding yourself running into any of the problems given below, then it is best for you to get rid of the pacifier:

  • 1. Your life is focused on making sure that your child has her pacifier in the mouth.
  • 2. Your nights are spent having to travel between your bed and baby’s crib just to return the pacifier to her mouth.
  • 3. Your baby is starting to have ear infections every now and then.

1 Your child may wean too early from the breast

Offering a pacifier to a full-term baby may lead to her avoiding what she truly need – her food, your milk. That’s right, research has suggested that the utilization of pacifiers can lead to excessively early cessation of breastfeeding. However, other researches such as those confused by the American Medical Association have claimed that it isn’t just pacifiers that can be blamed for early weaning. This is because excessive usage of pacifiers can be a sign of reduced motivation to breastfeed or even breastfeeding difficulties.

Although the link between breastfeeding cessation and pacifier usage is not fully established, experts suggest that it is best for parents to wait a while before giving their kids a pacifier. If anything, a pacifier should be offered between the four to six weeks periods, when the mother’s milk supply has fully established itself. This is because sucking on a breast is fairly different from sucking on a pacifier and your child may be sensitive to these differences. Early utilization of artificial nipples has hence between associated with decreased exclusive breastfeeding as well as the duration of breastfeeding.

It may turn into a bad habit for you too

Yes, even parents can catch the bad habit of giving a pacifier to their little one each time she becomes uncomfortable or cranky. If you give her the pacifier as soon as she starts crying, there’s a good chance that you will end up overlooking the real reasons for your baby’s tears, such as an uncomfortable diaper or a tummy ache that may be agitating her. The worst part is that this habit will lead you to having a baby who will not be able to comfort herself in any other way except for having a pacifier in her mouth. 

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