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What People Say About Pacifier Use: Separating Fact from Fiction

Not every baby needs a pacifier. Read on for more information about pacifier use.

Sooner or later, every new parent hears that their baby “needs” a pacifier. The reasons offered may vary, but they all have one thing in common: They’re false. Not every baby needs one. But if you want to reality-check the myths, here’s the scoop on the top ones you’re likely to hear.

1. People say: Using a pacifier will protect your baby from dying of SIDS

Fact-check: Sadly, there is no known method for absolute prevention of SIDS. Some studies that show an association – a link, a correlation, a relationship – between use of pacifiers and a lower incidence of SIDS. However, the exact cause or causes of SIDS is unclear, so the exact preventive measure is not well understood.

2. People say: Using a pacifier will ensure your baby doesn’t suck his thumb

Fact-check: It may seem like giving a pacifier to an infant who likes to suck on fingers will be a good thing. After all, you can take it away from the baby to break the habit later, right? Actually, many infants who accept them also engage in non-nutritive thumb-sucking or finger-sucking. Giving or not-giving a pacifier won’t change that.

3. People say: There’s no research on short-term or long-term effects of pacifier use

Fact-check: Actually, there are dozens of studies that show a correlation between the use of pacifiers and adverse effects, including dental changes, reduced length or duration of breastfeeding, and ear infections. It’s important, though, to remember that many of these studies show association; cause-and-effect relationship is difficult to prove.

4. People say: Other than helping the baby (and parents) to settle down, pacifiers have no benefits

Fact-check: For years, we have known that pacifiers are beneficial to preterm babies and, for all babies, they seem to offer some pain-relieving benefit during a painful procedure. Research also shows that breastfeeding is more beneficial.

5. People say: Pacifiers are mostly harmless

Fact-check: Actually, this is unclear. Multiple peer-reviewed, published studies have identified adverse effects in several body systems, including psychological, language development, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and more.

6. People say: For a healthy, term baby, pacifiers make no difference in breastfeeding

Fact-check: Why the use of pacifiers is linked to early cessation of breastfeeding is unclear, but the relationship does exist. About 20 years have passed since Dr. Victora and colleagues published “Pacifier use and short breastfeeding duration: Cause, consequence, or coincidence?” but piles of new research have failed to elucidate the nature of this relationship. The pacifier could be the cause, the consequence, or just a coincidental aspect of early weaning.

7. People say: Pacifiers are the best way to calm, console, and soothe a baby

Fact-check: There are lots of ways to calm a baby! Most parents will intuitively hold, cuddle, sing to, or rock their fussy baby. Even more simple strategies, such as skin-to-skin contact or infant massage can be helpful. Pacifiers can help some babies, but it’s important to remember that crying is, for the baby, a means of communication.

Why is the baby crying? What is she trying to communicate? A wet diaper? Hunger? A need for sleep? An upset tummy? A need for some close contact? To truly meet your baby’s needs, you probably want to focus on figuring that out before plugging in a pacifier. Listen to our podcast for more information for making an informed decision.

If you’d like more information on pacifiers and breastfeeding, you can earn 1.6 L-CERPs and/or 1.6 contact hours with our self-learning program “Benefits and Risks of Pacifier Use for Breastfed Babies.”

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