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Anti-Pacifier to Pro-Binky: How I made peace with the paci

When my first son was born, I was an idealistic and determined 22-year-old. I was going to do everything right. My little boy would not be exposed to commercialism, he would not eat junk food, and he certainly would not use a pacifier.

I abhorred pacifiers. They were funky little plastic plugs fouling up a baby’s soft, perfect little face. Gross. I didn’t want to see a baby with a pink ballerina or a flower sprouting from his mouth; I wanted to see his sweet pink lips and cheeks.

I understood that some parents liked to let their babies be comforted with a pacifier, but felt (somewhat self-righteously) that I preferred to comfort my baby myself, with nursing, rocking, or plain old attention. We showed our first three sons where their thumbs were and encouraged thumb-sucking, but none of them really took to it. They all had blankets they loved, but that was it. No thumbs AND no pacifiers. Great!

Enter son number four. After our third, we wanted another child, but we struggled with infertility and miscarriages. Finally we opted for a domestic adoption. We got Frank at birth, and I quickly learned how different caring for an adopted baby is from caring for one from your own body. For one, I fed him formula. I’d never used it much with our first three babies – only when they were babysat, which wasn’t terribly often. Sure, I followed the Newman-Goldfarb protocol for induced lactation, and I was able to breastfeed Frank (with formula supplementation) for three months, but soon it got too frustrating for both of us, and he became an exclusively bottle-fed baby. That was hard to get used to – my baby getting “milk” that wasn’t mine through an artificial nipple instead of my own. But soon I came to terms with it; that’s what’s required for some of our babies to eat and grow, and healthy little Frank had been on the high end of the growth charts since birth.

However, not breastfeeding meant that I had fewer ways to soothe him when he got fussy. With the other boys, a minute or two of light nursing calmed them on those occasions. I attempted to do the same with newborn Frank, but as the weeks went on, I got less successful and progressively sorer until I finally found myself wincing when I tried to comfort-nurse him with basically dry breasts. I desperately wanted to make him feel better, but the way I was going about it clearly wasn’t working.

That’s when it occurred to me that that the artificial nipple Frank seemed to get so much satisfaction from during bottle feedings wasn’t all that different from a pacifier. One day, looking down into the eyes of my fretful baby, I decided to give the paci a whirl.

That child loved his binky. When he was still pretty tiny, I started popping it in during car rides, and he’d contentedly suck and look at his baby toys or out the window. And it definitely came in handy when we were in public and he was insecure or crabby; it was, as its etymology suggests, an awesome little peacemaker.

It’s been interesting to see the world through my binky-accepting eyes. Now when I see babies out in public with pacifiers plugged into their mouths, I notice how confident and calm they tend to be. The sucking provides them with so much comfort and reassurance. Why wouldn’t we want that for our babies? It seems silly that it bothered me so much in the first place.

I’m also seeing the binky-haters, my former ilk, with new eyes. The first especially vocal critic I encountered was my grandmother, who was scandalized every time she saw little Frank with his pacifier. “Get that fooler out of his mouth!” she’d grumble. “He doesn’t need that thing.” It reminded me of how she’d fuss that I held our firstborn, Grant, too much. “Put that child down! He’s sleeping and he doesn’t need to be held. You’re going to spoil him.” I love my grandmother, but she was wrong about me holding Grant too much, and she’s wrong about pacifier use.

Similarly, one day when I took Frank to my gym and dropped him off at the nursery so I could work out, a gym employee actually yanked the pacifier out of his mouth, saying, “Why do you want that thing? You don’t need it!” I was furious. I told her that, since the gym was a new place for him, and he would be without me in the nursery, I wanted him to have his pacifier to comfort him. She seemed a little abashed (as she should have) and muttered something to herself about the perils of pacifier use as I restored Frank’s silicone soother to his mouth. As I headed for the treadmill, I realized with some amazement that I – I of all people – had become a bona fide defender of the bink.

Of course, I still worried a little about Frank’s attachment to his pacifier. I feared it would somehow inhibit his speech. I sometimes second-guessed why he liked it so much in the first place; was it just replacing the comfort-nursing I couldn’t provide (which still made me feel a little guilty), or did he seek it to soothe his grief over losing his birthmother (even more disheartening)? Was he too attached to it? Was he using it to satisfy needs I should be filling in other ways?

Prompted in part by my angst, my husband and I were careful to keep the pacifier from becoming the go-to remedy for every bad mood; when he was just over a year old, we transitioned Frank from frequent to special-times-only pacifier use. After just a few days of firmly telling him that Binky and his adored lovey, Puppy, now lived only in his bedroom, he got the picture. I actually think the new rule contributed to his unusually positive attitude toward bedtime; even if he’s doing something fun and would like to stay up a while longer, he’s less resistant to winding down because he knows he gets to be reunited with Binky and Puppy.

Each evening when I give him the go-ahead, Frank runs to his room and pops Binky into his mouth, grabs hold of Puppy’s ear, and settles down for a few storybooks. When I go to get him in the morning, he likes to lounge for a few minutes, holding his beloved Puppy and sucking on his Binky while we cuddle.

Then I tell him that it’s time to go downstairs and find Daddy, and he knows what that means. He tosses Puppy and Binky to the floor and runs to his bedroom door. He’s ready for the day.

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