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Will Using a Pacifier Affect My Breastfed Baby?

Sara Walters
Carmarthen Wales UK
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, p. 279

Pacifiers, also known as "dummies," can seem like an essential tool in the parents' calming arsenal. Babies are soothed by sucking, so what could be more convenient than this small portable device that is easily slipped into a baby's mouth? And yet, isn't this what breasts are for? Will offering a pacifier/dummy cause problems with breastfeeding, or can the two coexist?

Why do babies like to suck?

Sucking is a basic need for babies; it provides both nourishment and comfort. The breast is the perfect tool to do this. Every time a baby sucks, he is ensuring that there will be plenty of milk for him because, even if not actively taking milk, sucking at the breast will stimulate a mother's milk supply. Also, the comfort from sucking is enhanced by the physical closeness of being snuggled up in his mother's arms. Babies just love being with their moms!

Why give a pacifier?

Sucking is a basic skill that all infants are born with. Minutes after being born, an infant can latch onto the breast and suck well enough to get milk. The ability to suck reflects an innate survival skill, and because it is so important, it has to be a pleasurable activity for the baby. For millennia, mothers have instinctively put their babies to their breasts as a calming mechanism when their babies needed comfort. We only have to observe how often babies put objects to their mouths to know that this is the way in which they come to know the world.

But as mothers moved away from breastfeeding, a substitute had to be found to meet a baby's sucking needs. Hence the current popularity of pacifiers.

So what may happen if I give my baby a pacifier?

Some breastfed babies use pacifiers with no problems. However, whenever a substitute for sucking at the breast is used, there is always a risk of consequences that may affect the breastfeeding relationship.

Pacifier use in the early weeks may affect milk supply and lead to slow weight gain. It is important that nursing sessions are not delayed and that all sucking is done at the breast in order to establish a good milk supply.

Using a pacifier may also result in latch-on and sucking problems for the baby. This is because the shape of the pacifier is different from your soft breast and the baby may get confused as to how to suck. This may result in sore nipples for mom. In addition to sore nipples, introducing a "dummy" may lead to mastitis because baby is not sucking as much at the breast. Also, you may find your fertility returns more quickly if you use a pacifier as your hormonal balance is affected by less sucking at the breast.

There may also be an increased risk of ear infections for a baby if regularly sucking on a pacifier. Thrush can also be a problem, as it thrives on moist surfaces at room temperature. Not only can it cause thrush infection, but unless pacifiers are boiled each day for five minutes and replaced each week during an outbreak of thrush, the pacifier can cause reinfection, too.

Regular pacifier use has also been shown to affect the growth of teeth and the shape of the mouth, increasing the need for braces later on. Also, it can increase the levels of bacteria in the mouth that cause dental caries. Regular pacifier use is also associated with early weaning.

Conclusion

Using a pacifier is a personal choice. Many breastfeeding mothers find they have no use for them, but there are also moms who have found them to be helpful. If you plan to nurse exclusively, it's important that nothing interfere with your milk supply -- especially during the first six months of baby's life. Many breastfed babies have no interest in using a pacifier. You are a source of nourishment and comfort to your baby, and you will always be his first choice.

For more information and tips about pacifier/dummy use, read articles, connect with other moms on the parenting forums, or find out how to contact a local LLL Leader at www.llli.org.

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