All about babies and pacifiers

A primer on pacifiers

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As a new parent, I was hesitant to give my infant a pacifier: I had visions of her heading off to kindergarten with a binkie in her mouth. But after too many sleepless nights, I finally caved.

No question about it — babies are soothed by sucking, and sometimes a pacifier is the only thing that settles them down (and saves your sanity), says Toronto psychologist Nicky Cohen. Still, many parents have questions about when and how to use them.

Q: Do pacifiers help or hinder self-soothing?

A: That depends on the child’s age, says Cohen. Before he is nine to 10 months old, a baby usually can’t use a pacifier independently. So if junior falls asleep with a soother in his mouth, there’s a good chance he’ll cry when it falls out at midnight (and again at 2 a.m., and again at 5…) and won’t be able to get back to sleep until you find it for him. As children get older, they learn how to pop binkie back in by themselves when they wake up.
Q: Do pacifiers interfere with breastfeeding?

A: While a soother may give many moms a break between feedings, experts advise that you hold off until your newborn learns to latch on properly and you have a good milk supply. An exception is premature or sick babies who may be comforted by a pacifier, says the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS).

Q: Is it better for a baby to suck her thumb or a soother?

A: Sucking on a pacifier causes fewer problems with tooth development than sucking a thumb or finger, says the CPS. You can control your child’s use of a pacifier — limiting it to bed and nap time, for example. And when it’s time to stop using a pacifier, you can simply throw it away, while a thumb is a permanent temptation.

Q: How old is too old for a pacifier?

A: Many experts say that unless the pacifier is causing a dental or speech problem, it’s fine for kids to use it during sleep periods (though not all day long) until they are four or five years old — before the permanent teeth come in. Some children have a more intense need to suck for comfort, says Cohen. Most kids gradually give up the pacifier on their own, as they become busier exploring the world, and as peer pressure kicks in. But if you’re concerned about your child’s pacifier use, consult your doctor.

Q: What’s the best way to say bye-bye to binkie?

A: The easiest way is to quit cold turkey, advises Cohen. “Offering a pacifier for some sleep periods and not others is too inconsistent and makes the process more difficult.” Some parents rely on the pacifier fairy to swoop in and retrieve binkie, leaving a coveted toy in its place. Most pacifier pangs last only a few days, but the older the child, says Cohen, the harder it can be to break the habit. Using an alternative comfort object, such as a special blanket, will help make the transition easier.

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