Breastfeeding and Pacifiers: Do they Work together?
Babies have an innate need to suck. They do it to get nourishment and to get comfort. Breastfeeding naturally and automatically satisfies both needs. As nursing became less popular, an artificial substitute for the breast was developed – the pacifier.
But as the benefits of breastfeeding not only to baby but to mother as well have resulted in a steady increase of nursing mothers, there are also more questions being asked about whether pacifiers are okay to use while breastfeeding or whether pacifiers should be avoided altogether.
The Natural Pacifier
Breasts are naturally designed to provide nourishment and comfort to a baby. Experts who study baby/mother bonding say that “nursing is not just about feeding a baby, it’s about emotional nurturance” (Aha! Parenting.com). It has often been said – and it is still a very common belief – that mothers should avoid letting their babies use the breast as a pacifier, even though that’s precisely what breasts were designed to do. Mothers were provided the perfect tool or instrument to nourish their babies’ tummies and souls.
Introducing a pacifier to a baby within the first month after birth before establishing a good breastfeeding relationship can potentially lead to breastfeeding problems. There are two main ways pacifiers can get in the way of breastfeeding.
First, the nipple on a pacifier is a lot softer and requires a different sucking motion and action from baby’s mouth than the nipple on the breast. Some babies will prefer the artificial nipple or will experience difficulties latching on to the breast to the point where they become frustrated and refuse to nurse.
Second, pacifier use can affect breast milk supply. “The quantity of milk a mother makes in the long-term is largely determined by how well the baby drains the breasts in the first weeks … [so] … it makes good sense … for a mother to breastfeed any time her baby shows a desire to suck” (PAMF). As the baby’s appetite increases over the first few weeks, a mother’s supply of milk increases, usually reaching its peak around the fourth week. The best way to generate good milk supply is frequent nursing. If this breastfeeding supply cycle is broken by pacifier use, it can result in chronically low milk production and result in lower weight gain in the baby and perhaps fussiness from hunger not being completely satisfied.
To avoid reducing breast stimulation, pacifiers should not be introduced until after the fourth week.
Increased pacifier use may, however, be a sign of breastfeeding difficulties, and not necessarily a causal factor. “If breastfeeding is so overwhelming for a mother that she is tempted to use a pacifier to avoid breastfeeding, it would be wise to seek the help of a lactation consultant” (PAMF).
Breastfeeding, Pacifiers and SIDS
Several studies have come out in the past few years that show a decrease in the incidents of SIDS in babies who used a pacifier. Researchers believe that SIDS results from an infant sleeping too deeply before his body is able to regulate the waking/sleeping cycle. It is argued that pacifier use keeps the baby from sleeping too soundly.
Yet again, however, breastfeeding plays a natural solution to this, as does co-sleeping. When a baby wakes frequently to nurse, or mother wakes her baby to nurse, this prevents a baby from sleeping too deeply, as well, and if baby is close to the mother, then his or her sleep cycles will eventually settle into the sleeping rhythm that his or her mother provides. “In fact co-sleeping and breastfeeding have both been shown to have a protective effect against SIDS, because the baby’s physiology is kept at a higher level of arousal … SIDS was probably unknown before separate bedrooms and cribs were invented, and as both co-sleeping and breastfeeding have increased since 1992, SIDS has decreased … [P]acifiers do not offer any particular benefit against SIDS for babies who are already breastfeeding” (Aha! Parenting.com).
Still, this is not to say that pacifiers can’t be used along with breastfeeding, but breastfeeding needs to be kept as the top priority. There are babies who will need more comfort than others and in those cases, a pacifier may fit the bill nicely. However, mothers should be aware of whether or not they are opting for the pacifier to avoid breastfeeding and could be depriving their babies of much needed comfort as well as nourishment.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
What’s Wrong with Pacifiers? Aha! Parenting.com. Web. Feb 23, 2012.
“Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers” by Sumi Sexton, MD, & Ruby Natale, PhD., PsyD. American Family Physician. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Apr 15;79(8):681-685. Web. Feb 23, 2012.
“Will Using a Pacifier Affect my Breastfed Baby?” by Sara Walters. La Leche League International. NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, p. 279.
Pacifier Use When Breastfeeding. Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Web. Feb 23, 2012.