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Pacifiers and Thumbsucking - All You Need to Know

While they may have just been born yesterday, babies are pretty clever. They can suck on their thumbs, fingers, and even fists to soothe themselves. It’s a biological imperative called non-nutritive sucking, meaning they aren't sucking for food or any nutrients like they would when breastfeeding. However, when babies are swaddled and placed on their backs to sleep, it's difficult for their hands to reach their mouths. This is where pacifiers come into play. Pacifiers can be a controversial subject and yet it is something many parents rely on.

Pacifiers: Do or Don't?

Let's face it, babies can get very fussy and pacifiers, well, pacify them. Studies have actually revealed that for babies who use pacifiers, there has been a decrease in the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). When sucking on a pacifier, the babies are indulging in a periodic movement of their mouths and sucking keeps them in a light state of sleep. This continuous activity leaves less chance that the baby will stop breathing. With that said, you shouldn’t feel obligated to force the pacifier on the baby if he or she doesn't want to use it or if it falls out during the night.

Doctors discourage lactating mothers from using pacifiers because it might confuse the baby and ultimately interfere with the latch. It's generally recommended to wait three or four weeks after giving birth to introduce the pacifier or other types of artificial nipples.

Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding to use a pacifier:

  • A pacifier should never be meant to replace or substitute breastfeeding.
  • Studies indicate that babies who use a pacifier tend to wean off breastfeeding earlier than those who don't, mainly due to the fact that they are getting that instinctive need to suck met with something other than the breast.
  • Some babies who use pacifiers are more prone to oral yeast, also known as thrush, which can also be transferred to the mother's nipples.
  • Studies show a correlation between pacifier use and an increase in ear infections.
  • Pacifiers can result in strangulation or choking if it breaks or gets tied around the neck. Be sure to follow safety guidelines when using pacifiers.

Prolonged pacifier use can result in speech problems or teeth misalignment
Pacifier use will increase the mother's chances of ovulating and getting pregnant. Exclusive breastfeeding is actually a method of birth control (depending on a variety of factors) that can be up to 98% effective during the first six months.

It's also important when buying a pacifier to buy the right one. Pacifiers should always be made with one piece only, and not multiple pieces. This is largely due to the fact that when dealing with a pacifier that has more than one piece, bacteria can grow.

Thumb sucking and What to Expect

For most babies, thumb sucking begins within weeks of birth, and then some perfect the habit before they are even born, in utero. Many parents worry about how thumb sucking can lead to a prolonged habit, but keep in mind that sucking is a completely natural reflex for babies due to how they eat. When you've already fed your baby and they are clamoring for more, thumb sucking can calm them down. Unlike pacifiers, a thumb is always at hand.

Here are a few advantages of thumb sucking in babies:

  • Thumb sucking may not interfere with breastfeeding, like a pacifier might
  • The practice helps a baby sooth and comfort themselves
  • You don't have to worry about losing or swallowing a thumb like you would a pacifier
  • Studies show that non-nutritive sucking not only calms babies, but it also stimulates the flow of saliva which can act as a lubricant to settle their upset stomach.

As your child grows, however, too much thumb sucking or pacifier use can do some unpleasant damage. Prolonged sucking can affect your baby's teeth alignment, the shape of their palate, and how the jaws close. It's imperative to wean them off at the age of three years old at the latest.

Thumb sucking can be more difficult for your child to stop than using a pacifier. You can help this process along by offering other comfort objects, such as a stuffed animal or other toy. It's also helpful to find the source. If a comfort toy doesn't do the trick, ask yourself whether your child's thumb sucking habit is anxiety-related. Some experts say that thumb sucking is often a way for a child to sooth and relax themselves during a scary or anxious situation. Try to keep an eye on the patterns surrounding the habit, such as a scary TV show or movie, and find a solution.

Whether your baby decides to use a pacifier or go organic with thumb sucking, understand that the act of sucking is a natural way for the baby to soothe themselves. While it's important for parents to consider the do's and dont's of pacifier use and thumb sucking, remember to never force your baby. They'll suck when they're ready!