For thousands of years, mothers have offered their breasts to their babies as pacifiers. Our babies are designed to suckle frequently; in fact, mothers in some cultures put their babies to the breast one hundred times a day! In our culture today, however, such frequent nursing is impractical even though many of our babies still “desire” it. Some parents try to help their babies suck on their thumbs, but for most infants, that is like picking up ice with chopsticks—it slips away despite the best efforts. That’s why they usually need a little sucking assistance.
Luckily, today’s parents have another effective sucking tool for moms whose babies want to suckle one hundred times a day—pacifiers.
However, as with other aspects of baby calming, there are certain tricks to using pacifiers well. These tips increase your baby’s chances for pacifier “suck”cess:
• Try different nipples—In my experience, no pacifier shape is superior to another. Some babies like orthodontic pacifiers, with their long stems and tips that are flattened on one side. Others prefer nubbier pacifiers with short stems. Ultimately, the perfect pacifier shape for your baby is the one she likes the best.
• Don’t try the hard sell—You can try putting the pacifier in your baby’s mouth when she’s crying, but don’t force it if she refuses.
• You’ll be most successful if you calm her first with the other “S’s” and then offer the pacifier.
• Use reverse psychology to keep the pacifier from falling out—This is the best trick I’ve ever seen for teaching a baby to keep the pacifier in her mouth. When your baby is calm, offer her the pacifier. The moment she starts to suck, tug it lightly as if you were starting to take it out of her mouth (but don’t tug so hard that it actually comes out).
Your baby will respond by resisting your tug and automatically sucking on the pacifier a little harder. Wait a moment and then give a little pull again. Repeat this process ten to twenty times, whenever you give your newborn the pacifier. Her natural tendency to resist you will train her mouth to keep a firm grip on the pacifier. Many two- to three-month-old infants can be trained to keep the pacifier in their mouths even while smiling—and crying.
This reverse psychology technique is based on a simple principle of human nature: We all believe that what is in our mouth belongs to us! That’s why trying to pull your nipple out of your baby’s mouth is like prying a toy from the arms of a two-year-old; the harder you pull, the more she resists, and thus develops the coordination and strength to keep hold of it.
Some parents and grandparents worry that pacifier use may teach a baby bad habits. But truthfully, a pacifier is just a tool to help calm your baby until she can do it herself. There are, however, six potential pacifier problems you’ll want to steer clear of:
1. Nipple confusion—Before nursing is well-established, some breast-feeding babies get confused when they’re given rubber nipples to suck on. A baby sucking on a rubber nipple often uses a lazy, biting motion, which requires much less effort and coordination than sucking on the breast. Unfortunately, this also sometimes teaches a baby an improper way to use her mouth muscles.
Therefore, bottles and pacifiers should be avoided during the first two to three weeks of life to avoid nipple confusion (or longer, if there are any breast-feeding problems).
Once the nursing is going well, you have a choice. You may decide never to offer a bottle and exclusively breast-feed or you may choose to offer your baby occasional bottles. If you choose the latter, because of work or to have the option of giving a bottle if you are ever sick or unavailable, I strongly recommend that you introduce the bottle by three to four weeks of age (parents who wait longer than that are often rudely surprised by their baby’s emphatic rejection of the synthetic nipple). Additionally, once your baby is taking a bottle well (with breastmilk, water, or non-caffeinated peppermint or chamomile tea), do not skip more than one to two days without giving a bottle … so your baby doesn’t forget how to take it.
2. Chemical contamination—Buy clear silicone pacifiers instead of yellow rubber ones. The yellow rubber gets sticky and deteriorates after a while and may release tiny amounts of unwanted chemical residue.
3. Keep sweets away—Don’t dip a pacifier into syrup to make your baby suck on it more eagerly. Sweeteners like honey and maple or corn syrup run a risk of giving your baby botulism (a disease causing temporary paralysis, and even death).
4. Keep it clean—When you buy a pacifier, wash it well with soap and hot water. Rinse it when it falls on the floor—and several times a day even if it doesn’t. Don’t suck your baby’s pacifier to clean it in your mouth, since your saliva may spread colds, herpes, or other illness.
5. No strings attached—Never hang a pacifier around your baby’s neck. Strings or ribbons may get caught around her fingers, cutting off the circulation, or wrap around the throat and choke her.
6. Enough is enough—Once a baby reaches four to five months of age, I usually get rid of pacifiers. By that time, your infant can suck on her own fingers and do many other things to calm herself. Stopping the pacifier after six months is more difficult, because by then your baby has already started to develop a close emotional relationship with her “paci,” much like a teddy bear or security blanket.