Experts have voiced valid concerns regarding the use (and abuse) of pacifiers. Not only can pacifiers cause ‘nipple confusion’ in an infant, it is also associated with premature weaning. A newborn infant is driven to suck on anything placed in their mouths, including a finger or artificial nipple. In an ill, small, jaundiced or easygoing baby, this drive to suck may become a substitute for feedings, since the urge to suck is being satisfied. Some babies might be satisfied with the simple act of sucking, and if a weary mom or dad decides to try the pacifier in an attempt to get baby to sleep for a longer period of time or go further between feedings, it can result in such problems as poor weight gain, and in the nursing mom, mastitis, engorgement, a decrease in milk supply, or plugged lactation ducts. Pacifiers and artificial nipples are specially designed so they automatically stimulate the spot in the back of the baby’s mouth, between the hard palate and soft palate that stimulates the sucking reflex. This might create a ‘lazy baby’ who will have trouble drawing mom’s nipple into his mouth far enough back to that same sucking reflex is stimulated during feeding time. The pacifier’s shape can even cause changes in the arch of the soft bony roof of the mouth, molding it high and narrow around the shape of the pacifier.
It is very important to avoid two common, yet very harmful, practices when using pacifiers. First, do not tie the pacifier to a string so that it’s readily available within baby’s reach should the urge strike. This is especially dangerous once baby becomes mobile and learning to crawl and roll, and could pose a strangulation hazard. Secondly, do not dip the pacifier tip in honey or something equally sweet, as this could introduce cavities in baby’s teeth. Generally speaking, infants and toddlers do not receive regular dental checkups like older children and adults, so therefore if a cavity should develop as a result of such a practice, it could result in severe harm and pain in baby’s mouth and teeth.
And finally, be aware of the overuse or misuse of a pacifier. If your baby isn’t fussy or upset, a pacifier is obviously not needed. Be aware of how you are feeling as a parent when you are offering a pacifier to your baby. Is it really to pacify baby? Or is it more to pacify you?