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Pacifiers: Should Your Baby Use Them?

On the East Coast it’s a binky. Southerners call it a paci. British babies use a dummy. Some folks even call it a plug. But no matter what you call a pacifier, you’ve undoubtedly heard an earful of conflicting information about using one. Many experts recommend using them to calm colicky babies while others insist they only serve to harbor bacteria and misalign teeth.

How can a little plastic and rubber device soothe your crying baby while dooming him to braces? Can a pacifier actually cause ear infections and prevent SIDS at the same time? Your mother-in-law says it’s a crutch, but all your friends say it’s a lifesaver. Pacifiers: Should your baby use them?

Satisfying Baby’s Need to Suck

The one thing everyone can agree upon is the newborn’s need to suck. “Infants are hardwired to need and enjoy sucking as a separate experience from feeding,” says Dr. Alan Greene, MD, FAAP. This sucking instinct is so hardwired that babies are often seen sucking their thumbs in the womb during routine ultrasounds. Why they enjoy sucking so much is unknown, but any mother who has experienced a 45-minute breastfeeding marathon or any dad who’s had the pad of his pinky rubbed raw by the vacuum power of a two-week-old baby knows that nothing delights an infant more than something in his mouth.

Our ancestors knew it too. Archeologists have unearthed prehistoric pacifiers made of bone, wood and smooth stone. Ancient Egyptian drawings appear to show babies using pacifiers. And the Athabascan women of Alaska, relatives of modern day Inuits, used to poke a stick through a piece of animal fat and place it parallel to the baby’s face so the child could enjoy the sensation of sucking without swallowing the fat. It’s a fact; where there are babies, there are binkies.

SIDS and Pacifiers

While it’s obvious that oral gratification can help keep babies and parents on an even keel, there are other benefits to letting your infant “plug in.” Several studies have shown a two- to threefold decrease of SIDS deaths among babies who use a pacifier. As explained in a recent article in Pediatrics magazine, “The hypothesis is that a pacifier protects the upper airway from becoming obstructed by the tongue.”

Some scientists speculate that a pacifier keeps a baby’s nose free of bedding in order to breathe or that pacifiers keep restless babies quiet, so they are less likely to thrash around in the crib and end up underneath the bedding. The American Academy of Pediatrics even created a task force to study this phenomenon and released a report in March 2000 stating, “Four recent studies have reported a substantially lower SIDS incidence among infants who used pacifiers than among infants who do not.”

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