Monday, May 12, 2008

The Great Pacifier Debate

Unlike advice about feeding an infant breast milk or formula, the debate still rages hotly about when and how to give pacifiers to babies. But a few facts are clear.

First, similar to what I wrote about bottle nipples, pacifiers do not behave like a mother's nipples and do not complain when bitten. They do not encourage biting or poor latching while nursing, but do nothing to discourage it either. During an infant's first three weeks, if it is being breast fed and thus is learning nursing, avoid pacifiers. Let the infant suck on a parent's finger, so you can take it out if there is biting. Mom will be most appreciative!

Second, different babies can have very different amounts of a need to soothe with sucking. For some babies the great pacifier debate is unimportant because they either refuse any pacifier or are inconsolable without one.

Third, more than a few hours per day of pacifier use is correlated to ear infections and dental problems. If pacifiers are only used to aid falling asleep there seem to be no established correlations to health or developmental problems.

Fourth, pacifiers can allow poor parenting habits. A complaining baby might be consolable with a pacifier when what it really wanted was attention or a clean diaper. Again, using a pacifier only to aid falling asleep avoids the potential problem of providing a quick fix instead of proper parenting.

Fifth, if you do use a pacifier, the safest (from potential allergy-development and choking concerns) have a silicone, one-piece design. Here is an example. These also have a hidden advantage: if you have a toddler whom you want to wean from pacifier use you can drill a hole through them.

We bought our son a pacifier a few days ago. I'm happy letting him suck on my fingers. But our son really likes to suck, and the fingernails on my pinky and ring fingers were getting sore!

He is not used to it, so it does not stay in his mouth unless held there. So it is of no use helping him fall asleep unless my wife or I am holding him. Still, it sometimes takes him ten minutes after a meal to realize he is full and sleepy. Now my fingernails have the option of taking a break when our son wants to suck on something during those ten minute time periods.

The pacifier is also nice if these after-feeding soothing times happen when I am tired but the baby wants both sucking and being patted on the back. Then I can have three hands! I'll put the baby in my lap with his head at one elbow, close enough to my chest so the pacifier stays in. I can hold my PDA with that hand to read (to better stay awake) while using the other hand to pat his back. Ta da! Sucking, patting, and turning pages all at the same time.

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