pacifiers are back


The only one of my children who ever used a pacifier was my oldest, Cooper. He was an early adapter and remained extremely attached until his third birthday, when I snipped the tips off them and convinced him that his big boy three-year-old teeth were putting holes in his “dadies,” as he called them. He went to sleep, without any tears, and gave them all to Santa at the mall that weekend. End of story.

My other two just never took to the pacifier, much to my dismay. A pacifier is a wonderful thing: for traveling, for teething, for all those times your little one needs help settling down. Still, I didn’t miss the pursed-lip reaction I would get to my son in his stroller, chilling with his dady. A thumb-sucking baby is fine- adorable, even. But there are many out there who judge pacifier use. At least up until now.

First, studies linked pacifiers to a reduced risk of SIDS. And this week, another study, saying that pacifiers do not have a negative impact on breastfeeding, as had been previously believed.

Now there are some, like the very dedicated mothers on this message board on mothering.com, who are taking issue with this study. They say that of course a baby that is offered a pacifier will eventually come to accept it as a substitute for a breast, and that that perforce must mean an early end to breastfeeding.

I disagree. I think a pacifier can prolong how long a mother chooses to breastfeed. If you have a colicky newborn who needs to suck 24/7, your nipples can’t take it. I speak from experience. If Cooper didn’t also accept a pacifier, I might not have made it through those difficult first few weeks. But we did, and I went on to breastfeed him for a year.

The standards that the pro-breastfeeding enthusiasts (the “uber-boobers,” I have heard them called, and sometimes by the uber-boobers themselves) set for themselves, as nursing mothers, are exceedingly high. And while I am certainly impressed by someone who can make nursing her child the 24/7 center of her life, for a FEW YEARS, I am not that person. I needed a haircut once in a while. I wanted to celebrate my birthday in a restaurant for grownups. Once in a while, I wanted to be able to leave the house alone for more than 20 minutes.

The pacifier makes all that possible. (So does the thumb, if your children are so inclined; mine could never be bothered.) I think most moms feel that their baby coming to accept a comfort that is not one of their actual body parts, by six months or so, is a wonderful thing.

If we say to new mothers that breastfeeding is all or nothing, I think we risk losing a lot of them after ten days. If we say, this isn’t absolute- you can offer a pacifier, or a daily bottle, and still be a good mother, and still keep nursing- I think more mothers will keep going. It worked great for me, three times, and I made it to a year with all three of my kids.

So today I say, hooray for the pacifier. You have been unfairly maligned. A pacifier doesn’t have to destroy a nursing relationship. It just might save it.