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“Babies love to suck,” says Dr. Natasha Saunders, co-author of The A to Z of Children’s Health by The Hospital for Sick Children. It’s estimated that up to 84 per cent of North American babies will use a pacifier during the first year of life. Sucking is a natural reflex that helps babies soothe themselves, and it provides a calming effect in those early months of life. “Every child is different and some babies will be able to self soothe without sucking on something, but for others a soother can be a huge help,” says Saunders.
Mississauga-based mom of two Amanda Robertson didn’t hesitate when it came to giving a pacifier to her two sons. “They both liked sucking and I didn’t want a thumb sucker,” she says. “How do you break that habit? A soother you can just take away once it’s run its course.” Robertson’s youngest son Oliver is two months, and he’s been happily sucking for about a month. “Once I had firmly established breastfeeding, and he’d taken a bottle for the first time, I offered a soother,” she says.
The Right Time to Introduce a Pacifier
There is a fear that offering the pacifier too soon can interfere with breastfeeding and the latch, so most experts recommend waiting until about the four-week mark before offering a soother. “Ideally babies should be able to suck comfortably before you offer a pacifier,” says Dr. Saunders. It’s not so much that you need to worry about interfering with your child’s feeding latch; it’s more that the baby might choose the pacifier for comfort over the breast for food. The exception to this rule is preemies.
According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, non-nutritive sucking via pacifiers is now considered part of routine developmental care of the preterm infants. Non-nutritive sucking provides the comfort that these preemies need. They’ve been thrust into the world early and, because of their size and health issues, are kept in an incubator away from their mother’s constant attention. Studies show that preterm infants who use a pacifier develop weight more rapidly, have a lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious intestinal disease common among preemies), and experience earlier hospital discharge.
Pacifiers proven ability to provide a calming effect also makes them a popular tool in hospitals when babies have to undergo minor procedures that may be uncomfortable, such as a needle. “In hospitals we’ll often put sucrose on a pacifier to help soothe a baby,” says Dr. Saunders. However, she warns that the sucrose is only for specific medical procedures. As a parent you shouldn’t put any food or drink on your child’s soother or it may cause dental problems down the road.