Whether you call it a pacifier, a soother, or a big pain in the butt – soothers are very often part of the life of a baby. Recently, figures from the Academy of Pediatrics suggest that 3 out of every 4 newborns take a pacifier until they are at least 18 months of age. In the beginning of life, soothers have a great many positive implications; however be warned that extended use beyond the first few months can steer your straight into trouble emotionally and physically.
Information about SIDS acknowledges that soothers can play a very important role in the normal breathing rhythm of newborns. Up till around the 6-month age, babies suffer from periodic bouts of apnea during sleep. When they are suckling on a pacifier, they are more inclined to continue breathing at a normal rate. Additionally, babies that are born prematurely or have problems latching on to the nipple or bottle can benefit from a soother to build up jaw and mouth strength. But be careful, offering it too soon can cause nipple aversion which is extremely difficult to reverse in the first few months of life. If you plan to exclusively breast feed make sure that your baby is suckling well before offering them a pacifier. This usually takes anywhere from 1 – 5 weeks.
For many parents the soother is their best friend in infancy. Babies are naturally inclined to suckle and will do so when they sleep even if nothing is in their mouth. One of the reasons suckling is so important is because it allows babies to eat at a pace that is natural for them. If you have a newborn, you have probably noticed that they gulp at times or that when a nipple starts to deteriorate they choke and gag on milk. Same is true when a breastfeeding mom is engorged. The suckling enables them to regulate flow of fluids in their mouth and helps with proper digestion. Suckling is also a natural way that babies fall asleep and soothe themselves. As it mimics nourishment and nurture, suckling can become a ‘pleasure’ habit that is encouraged with the introduction of a soother.
However, be forewarned, there is a certain age when you must ditch the pacifier. How many times have you seen a 3, 4, or even 5 year old walking around with a pacifier in their mouth? Clearly, they don’t need it. If you choose to use a soother, than do so until around the 6 month mark and then get rid of it. The reasons for this are twofold. First of all, they are eating foods by then, probably have a first tooth and are less inclined to need the suckling to self soothe. Secondly, they are still at an “out of sight out of mind” stage in their life where they will not remember it a few hours after they disappear. This makes the taking away the pacifier dilemma a non-issue. If you wait until they are older, past the one year mark you are in for one wild week or so that will try your patience more than anything else you have ever experienced. You will feel terrible, so will your child and you are less likely to succeed.
There are other reasons that soothers are not ideal as well. For one thing, they are dirty, filthy, and germy. Did I mention germy. Kids drop them all over the floor, they float under the seats of the car, toddlers are prone to sharing them, dipping them in things like the toilet or goo, just for the experience, and as a result, they are laden with bacteria. They also breed bacteria to grow in the mouth, prompt temperatures inside the mouth to rise and hold germs, sugar, and acids in the mouth in close proximity to the teeth and gums. In fact, the American Dental Association estimates that $1 million is spent annually to correct dental problems in children under 5 caused by excessive use of soothers. Also, while the suckling motion was beneficial as an infant, as your child develops teeth – it can actually begin to impede proper dental growth and reform the interior of the mouth. This can mean braces later in life or dental issues with baby teeth that can cause malfunctions in the forming roots of adult teeth.
Another factor experienced by excessive soother use is speech problems. Many toddlers do not remove the pacifier to speak and aren’t encouraged to speak clearly with a soother – which causes them to develop speech delays or problems. While you may understand them, others cannot. This leads to another wide array of sociological issues. There is also the fact that young children who are constantly given a pacifier or soother as a method of quieting them are not learning how to deal with their feelings, use their words to work through a situation or find other methods that help to develop self-control.
The social and health limitations presented by excessive soother use are vast. It is true that early in life, soothers have their just place. The problem is that they become as much of a habit for parents as they do for children. 2-year old throwing a fit in the backseat…pacifier. 18 month old over tired – pacifier. Child can’t fall asleep – pacifier. The list is endless. The reliance comes from both the kids and the parents. You also have to realize that quite often, one reason your baby doesn’t stay asleep at night is because every time the pacifier falls out, which is often, they are roused to look for it. This means that while it can be useful for lulling to sleep, it has the reverse effect on keeping your baby asleep.
By now, you are probably completely confused. The best advice you can take is to let your newborn baby decide if they will be a pacifier baby or not. If they choose to take one and it seems to help them, make a commitment to not replace them, buy larger ones, or continue using them past a certain point. One good way is to set the goal that once the first two teeth are in, the pacifier is a thing of the past. Babies at this age are ultra resilient and although they may cry for a few hours or a day or so; it wont last forever. If you wait much beyond this point, you can be looking at a struggle over taking the pacifier away and the negative effects it can have on their health long term.