Imagine my surprise when at a recent baby shower I heard the mother try to gracefully thank a family member for a gift of about thirty pacifiers (in different colors, designs and styles), saying that she would not be using pacifiers with her baby. Not using pacifiers? Did any mother not use pacifiers? According to the cousin whose shower I was attending, giving a baby pacifier reduces the time he/she breastfeeds. I was fascinated by the thought. Pacifiers were only there to suck on. They didn’t produce milk or anything else that would give babies a reason not to breastfeed, I thought. Why would having a pacifier to suck on make any difference to a baby’s breastfeeding habits?

Breastfeeding is, without argument, the best thing for both mother and baby. Studies have shown that babies who breastfeed exclusively get better nutrition, have stronger immune systems, are better emotionally adjusted, are at lower risk for the development of some cancers, are less likely to be obese, and develop stronger relationship with their mothers. Mothers who breastfeed have an easier time getting back to their pre-pregnancy weight, have a reduced risk of some cancers, and bond more strongly with their babies. For these reasons, hospitals today encourage all mothers to breastfeed exclusively whenever possible.

For many years, the recommendation has been to not give newborns pacifiers as it could create nipple confusion and reduce the chances that they would exclusively breastfeed; pacifiers are also said to shorten the duration that a baby breastfeeds. Some experts explain this by saying that newborns get confused about the shape of the nipples and are not able to latch correctly to their mothers’ nipples. This confuses and frustrates the baby, reduces the amount of milk he gets, and can cause irritation and damage to the mother’s nipple.

Recent studies, however, have indicated that the complete opposite may be true. Some research into the breastfeeding behavior of newborns while still in the hospital has indicated that when pacifiers are kept away from babies as a routine choice, the instance of exclusive breastfeeding over the entire newborn population of the hospital drops. These researchers contend it is possible use of a pacifier can encourage sucking behavior, which can be transferred onto the breast to stimulate the production of milk.

Source: Vogel, AM, et al. The impact of pacifier use on breastfeeding: A prospective cohort study, Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, February 2001, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 58-63.

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