This is the a tough topic because you will get a whole host of responses when you ask a parent about the use of a pacifier, also known as a binky or dummy. I though I would share my thoughts on the pacifier now that I have been through 3 children who have all had totally different experiences with the pacifier sucking.
Pros for Pacifiers
Babies have a very strong suck reflex when they are born. That is a good thing, otherwise they would not take a bottle or nurse well. They need that sucking reflex to survive. In many cultures, woman wear their babies all day long and they nurse very frequently throughout the day. In our modern American culture, most women do not wear their babies or have the ability to nurse all day long. That is where the pacifier comes in handy. It gives your baby the ability to engage in their sucking needs without having a nurse or pacify with a bottle all day long. Sucking is also a very calming and soothing activity for babies. Offering a pacifier is a great way to allow your baby to self-sooth and calm when upset or going to sleep. Some of the ways I (or other people) have found the pacifier come in hand are the following:
1. When out and about and your baby gets fussy and you need to help quiet her and help her calm downI have found that during grocery shopping and things of that nature, that the pacifier was of great use to me. I also found that in car rides when I did not have easy access to my children, the pacifier was of great help, keeping my children from crying and perhaps even helping them to fall asleep.
2. Helps babies fall asleep
Many sleep specialists worn about nursing/ bottle feeding your baby to sleep. But many babies need to suck to fall asleep. That is where a pacifier is of great use. I allowed my children as young infants to use a pacifier to fall asleep. I also found when trying to teach my children to take longer naps, that if they woke early, I could give them a pacifier and they would go back to sleep.
3. You can take the pacifier away
Some people do not want their children to be thumb suckers. So parents feel that offering a paci is a good solution to still allowing their children to suck, but not their thumb. It is easier to take a pacifier away than a thumb.
Cons for Pacifiers
There are some cons associated with pacifier use. Many people feel that if you offer a pacifier too early, like at birth, they will develop “nipple confusion” and not breastfeed as well. I have had three children, all have had a pacifier starting at birth, and this has never happened to me. It never caused any problems what so ever when it came to nursing. If anything, it was a aid when it came to breastfeeding, because I did not became the “human pacifier” and I was able to offer my children the need to suck without nursing 24/7. Another con associated with pacifiers is, they are a sleep prop. Your baby could develop a dependency on the use of a pacifier and need it to sleep. Many parents end up becoming the “binky fairy” and have to keep running into their baby’s room all night or several times during nap time to keep reinserting the pacifier when it falls out. Luckily, many babies figure out how to put the pacifier in their own mouths if it falls out and that solves that issue, but that skill does not usually develop until 5-7 months of age.
Personal Experience with Pacifiers/ Thumb Sucking
He took a pacifier from the time he was born. It was a very useful tool. He never really had a strong need to suck when he was awake, but when he went to sleep, he wanted to suck. I did not want to nurse him to sleep so the pacifier was a great tool. I hated to hear him cry himself to sleep and the pacifier kept him from crying himself to sleep. However, the pacifier became an issue and when it feel out he expected me to reinsert it. I did that until he was 10 weeks old, but at 10 weeks I decided that I was not going to go back into his room any longer to give him the paci during his naps or at night. There was some crying involved, but she soon learned to fall back to sleep if the paci fell out without me having to back in and putting it back in his mouth. At 4 months, when I started to wean him of his swaddle, he discovered his fingers and began to suck them when he would wake in the middle of a nap. He stopped needing the paci to fall alseep for naps because he began to prefer his fingers. I was happy the day we got rid of the pacifier, because his sleep improved ten fold. He no longer need the pacifier and he discovered his own self-soothing abilities by sucking his fingers. My son is an awesome sleeper and I think it is because he has discovered how to self-sooth by sucking his own fingers and did not rely on a pacifier, person, or any other sleep props to help him fall asleep.
My daughter Molly was also given a pacifier from the time she was born. Because she has a twin sister, I relied a lot on pacifiers because I could not physically hold or rock two crying babies at the same time. They were a big help to me when my daughters where little infants. I think the pacifier saved me actually! Molly used the paci to fall asleep and if she woke early from naps I would offer her the paci to see if she would go back to sleep. I also used the paci when I was out and about or in the car to help her when she would start to cry. At around 3.5 months of age, Molly learned to roll from back to belly. I had to stop swaddling her because of her rolling. She started to sleep on her tummy (yes, I know this is a huge SIDS risk at this age, but she would not stay on her back). When she started to sleep on her tummy she had a huge problem keeping her paci in her mouth. She had two really bad days of sleep because her paci kept falling out. Finally, she discovered her thumb on day two and it has been smooth sailing ever since. She does not suck her thumb when she is awake, unless she is getting tired. She saves thumb sucking for her crib. She sucks her thumb to fall asleep and if she wakes in the middle of a nap or at night, she will find her thumb and start sucking to put herself back to sleep. Molly is an awesome sleeper too!!! She rarely cries to go to sleep, rarely wakes early from naps, or rarely wakes up in the middle of the night crying. If she does cry for longer than a minute, this is rare for her and I know she needs me so I go and tend to her.
Anna is the child that I messed up on. I allowed Anna to have a pacifier until a few days before she turned 6 months. In hindsight, this went on way too long. Like with my daughter Molly, I allowed Anna to have a pacifier as young infant from birth. The pacifier was great for helping to calm her when I was tending to her sister Molly or her toddler brother Cooper. I use the pacifier when running errands or in the car. Anna used the pacifier to fall asleep and if she woke early I would offer her the pacifier to see if that would help her go back to sleep. I kept telling myself that I would take the pacifier away when Anna learned to roll over. But Anna did not learn to roll over until she was almost 6 months old. From about 4-6 months, I became the pacifier fairy for Anna during nap time. Like clockwork, Anna would wake 45 minutes into her nap because she would discover her paci had fallen out. I would have to run into her room and stick it back into her mouth and she would sleep another 45 minute -1.5 hours longer. This got old really fast. I kept hoping that Anna would just roll over and that would force me to take her pacifier away, but like I mentioned already, she did not roll over until almost 6 months. I too the pacifier away from her at 6 months for the same reasons I took Molly’s paci away. Anna could not keep it in her mouth while she was laying on her belly. It took about 2-3 days of HORRIBLE crying and sleep. The first night Anna cried for 2 hours before she would go to sleep without her paci. My husband and I tired to help calm her to sleep, but nothing was working. She also had a bad head cold and congestion the day she decided to start sleeping on her tummy. I think I cried as much as Anna did those two days. Finally on the second day, she started to sleep through her naps without waking up and sleeping through the night again. Sigh… I kept hoping that she would discover her thumb or fingers and self-sooth herself to sleep, but it never happened. Even now at 8 months of age, she still cries herself to sleep. She usually cries about 5-10 minutes before each nap. Thankfully, at night, she usually goes to sleep without any crying (maybe a wimper, but that’s all). I hate to hear her cry herself to sleep. I have tired to rock her to sleep, but she will not have any of it. I think she is so use to going to sleep without rocking (I could not rock her and her twin sister at the same time when going to sleep. Not physically possible) that rocking her just did not work. She still a good sleeper, but she is not as good of a sleeper as Cooper and Molly. If she wakes up early in the morning or early from a nap, she has a hard time going back to sleep. I really think I interfered with allowing Anna to discover her ability to self-sooth with running up and giving her a paci when she would wake early from nap and allowing her to fall asleep with it for 6 months. In hindsight, I wish I would have just taken the paci away around 3.5-4 months of age and given her the opportunity to discover his thumb or fingers for that matter.
If you are going to use a pacifier, I would do the following:
1. Limit the use of the pacifier for sleep only or for when you are out and about and need to calm your baby. I think too often parents offer the pacifier to their children too often during their awake time. This does not allow your child the ability to discover his own sucking and self-soothing abilities. It also prevents your child from communicating to you other needs like cries for pain or hunger (missing one of their child’s other needs). Offering the pacifier during the time they are awake will only create a strong dependence on the pacifier and will make it harder to break them of needing a pacifier when you decided to wean them of one.
2. Wean (or take away) the pacifier no later than 4 months of age. I say this because if you allow your child to use a pacifier for too long, they will develop a strong dependence on the pacifier to be happy during their wake time and to fall asleep and stay asleep. Once you notice your baby developing better hand control, that is usually a good time to wean your baby of the pacifier because they can suck their fingers or thumb for self-soothing at that point (that is if you will allow thumb sucking).
3. Allow your baby to fall asleep with it, but don’t put the pacifier back in their mouths if it falls out. I think up until your baby has good hand control, it is okay to go back into your baby’s room mid nap and give them their pacifier if it falls out. But once your baby has developed good hand control, don’t go back in. Your child needs to learn how to put himself back to sleep without your help. Your child might cry a little, but over time, he will either figure out how to put the pacifier back in his own mouth without your help or learn to suck his or her own thumb/ fingers. Going back in and giving your child the pacifier, is creating a sleep dependency/ sleep prop. The goal as a parent is to teach your child to sleep without assistance and continuing to give back the pacifier does not help to achieve this goal.
If I have another child, I think I will give that child a pacifier at birth again, but take it away around 3.5-4 months of age. At that age infants usually have the muscle control to get their hands to their mouth and suck. I don’t have a problem with thumb sucking or finger sucking, as it allows the child the ability to self-sooth and not rely on a sleep prop or a parent to sleep. Yes I know that thumbs and fingers are a whole lot harder to take away later, but I think that sleep is equally important in my book! Sleep deprivation can be a very difficult thing to deal with.