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Sooner or later, every new parent hears that their baby “needs” a pacifier. The reasons offered may vary, but they all have one thing in common: They’re false. Not every baby needs a pacifier. But if you want to reality-check the myths, here’s the scoop on the top ones you’re likely to hear.
1. People say: Using a pacifier will protect your baby from dying of SIDS.
Fact-check: Sadly, there is no known method for absolute prevention of SIDS. There are studies that show an association—a link, a correlation, a relationship—between pacifier use and a lower incidence of SIDS. However, it is unclear exactly what causes SIDS, so the exact preventive measure is not well understood.
2. People say: Using a pacifier will ensure your baby doesn’t suck his thumb.
Fact-check: It may seem like giving an infant who likes to suck on fingers a pacifier will be a good thing. After all, you can take a pacifier away from the baby to break the habit later, right? Actually, many infants who accept pacifiers also engage in non-nutritive thumb-sucking or finger-sucking. Giving or not-giving a pacifier won’t change that.
3. People say: There’s no research on short-term or long-term effects of pacifier use.
Fact-check: Actually, there are dozens of studies that show a correlation between pacifier use and adverse effects, including dental changes, reduced length or duration of breastfeeding, and ear infections. It’s important, though, to remember that many of these studies show association; cause-and-effect relationship is difficult to prove.
4. People say: Other than helping the baby (and parents) to settle down, pacifiers have no benefits.
Fact-check: For years, we have known that pacifiers are beneficial to preterm babies and, for all babies, seem to offer some pain-relieving benefit during a painful procedure. Research also shows that breastfeeding is more beneficial than pacifiers.
5. People say: Pacifiers are mostly harmless.
Fact-check: Actually, this is unclear. Multiple peer-reviewed, published studies have identified adverse effects in several body systems, including psychological, language development, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and more.
6. People say: For a healthy, term baby, pacifiers make no difference in breastfeeding.
Fact-check: Why pacifier use is linked to early cessation of breastfeeding is unclear, but the relationship does exist. Nearly 20 years have passed since Dr. Victora and colleagues published “Pacifier use and short breastfeeding duration: Cause, consequence, or coincidence?” but piles of new research has failed to elucidate the nature of this relationship. The pacifier could be the cause, the consequence, or just a coincidental aspect of early weaning.
7. People say: Pacifiers are the best way to calm, console, and soothe a baby.
Fact-check: There are lots of ways to calm a baby! Most parents will intuitively
hold, cuddle, sing to or rock their fussy baby. Even more simple strategies, such as skin-to-skin contact or infant massage can be helpful. Pacifiers can help some babies, but it’s important to remember that crying is, for the baby, a means of communication. Why is the baby crying? What is she trying to communicate? A wet diaper? Hunger? A need for sleep? An upset tummy? A need for some close contact? To truly meet your baby’s needs, you probably want to focus on figuring that out before plugging in a pacifier.