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Pacifiers: are they really helping your baby sleep better?

Pacifier, dummy, binky, soother - whatever cutesy name you give it, it’s #1 role is to calm your baby. I don’t have numbers, but my guess is that millions of babies worldwide use a pacifier.

Full disclaimer: so did my kids.

In and of itself, it seems to be a pretty harmless tool for a parent to have in their arsenal. It can give a nursing mom’s painful nipples some rest or help a toddler who can’t calm themselves. But before I go into why I don’t think pacifiers are a good idea, let’s understand why they work.

How does a pacifier work?

The pacifier’s nipple is designed to rest on the soft palate in the baby’s mouth - this is a sensory-rich area that is very important for a human’s ability to settle. The pressure of the nipple triggers the suckling reflex in newborns and that allows for oxytocin (often known as "the love hormone") release and is very calming and often, it’s all that’s needed for them to fall asleep.

Are there any benefits to pacifiers?

Yes, in addition to the reasons mentioned above, they are very useful for SIDS prevention; especially if your baby is bottle-fed and/or sleeping on their own sleep surface.

At this point you might be thinking, great! What’s the problem?

Are pacifiers bad for babies?

Yes, and no. First, they’re not “bad” - there are times when pacifiers are very useful tools when used wisely. Like I mentioned, both my kids used them. But there are some serious downsides to pacifiers that are rarely mentioned. If you’re searching about pacifiers, you’ve heard that they can cause crooked teeth, but if you wean them before 2 years old, there shouldn’t be a problem. While that’s true and most dentists will agree with that statement, there are several other reasons why I don’t recommend a pacifier and wouldn’t use it again with my kids.

1) They discourage the tongue from resting, suctioned up on the soft palate of the mouth.

For me personally, this alone is reason enough to restrict pacifier use (and one I wish I knew before offering it to my sons). As I mentioned previously, the role of the pacifier is to calm your baby by stimulating the soft palate and triggering the sucking reflex. We were designed to have a built-in calming tool: our tongues! The tongue begins to develop around the 4th week after conception and it’s role is multifaceted and very important to our development.

Here are a few extra reasons: the tongue resting suctioned on the roof of the mouth helps to develop a wide upper jaw (which facilitates breathing and swallowing); when the tongue isn’t suctioned to the roof of the mouth at rest (particularly in sleep) the body will not allow itself to fall into deep sleep (where there is a paralysis of all muscles, which the tongue is) and will keep itself in a light sleep; the tongue being discouraged from resting on the roof of the mouth will train it to stay down and encourage mouth-breathing (which our mouths were not designed to do!).

2) They can lead to an undiagnosed tongue or lip tie

Ah yes, the infamous tongue tie. Although there are media reports of it being over-diagnosed, there is still a portion of the population that will naturally have one. Ankyloglossia is simply where the lingual frenulum (the fascia under your tongue which connects your tongue to the floor of your mouth) may be shortened or thickened, restricting movement of the tongue. Many babies are discovered to have a tongue-tie because nursing mothers report pain or discomfort to a lactation consultant or the baby may have low weight gain. Those are only a couple of the numerous symptoms that can be attributed to tongue-ties. I believe that if from birth babies are offered a pacifier for non-nutritive sucking (and especially for bottle-fed infants) a parent might not know that their baby has a resolvable tie that can truly impact their life.

3) Pacifiers eventually have to be weaned

If you ask people’s opinions on pacifiers on a social media group, you’ll no doubt hear something along the lines: “rarely has a child gone to college (or even elementary school) still using their pacifier”. While I can appreciate that statement, I feel that it lacks the compassion in the reality that you will be facing when trying to negotiate a toddler into giving up one of the only tools they’ve ever known to help them calm when upset or distressed, or even to sleep. Using it sparingly and removing it while your child is young and before they become attached is a much easier way to wean the pacifier.

So there you have it… all the reasons why I’d suggest not offering your baby a pacifier for “full-time” use. I simply want you to have some information in making this decision. Of course, doing what is best for your family is the most important, but often in our state of postpartum haze when we’re likely to offer a pacifier and we’re not finding any information contrary, it seems like a great plan!

If you’re like me, in the position where you’ve offered your baby a pacifier and want to remove it… now what can you do? There are solutions, depending on your baby’s age. I’d be happy to talk with you and see how I can support you through this transition! Book a 15-minute FREE introductory call.

Talk to you soon!




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