A new study brings great news for us guilt-ridden moms who used pacifiers to calm our kids.
It's been 15 years for me, but I still remember the dilemma when I took my newborn baby home from the hospital: To suck or not to suck? As a working mom, I was well aware of the binkie controversy. At first it seems cruel to me, giving my baby something to suck that provided no sustenance. But he took right too it, and I soon realize that the sucking instinct in newborns goes beyond feeding. In fact, babies in the womb can be seen sucking their thumbs on ultrasounds. This phenomenon is called non-nutritive sucking, and it even exists in animals.
So why have pacifiers been given such a bad rap? Many hardcore breast-feeding-only moms harbor the long-held belief that using a pacifier or artificial nipples will interfere with breast-feeding. They theorize that this can cause the dreaded "nipple confusion." They argue that pacifiers can inhibit your baby's ability to learn to latch and suck properly, as well as possibly decrease the duration of breast-feeding.
Well there is finally some prospective research data to back up us pacifists, as I like to call myself! Pacifists are the weary working mothers just looking for a little bit of peace (and quiet). Some of you may not be aware of the shame and agony we pacifists have had to endure at the hands of the breast-feeding advocates when we gave our babies "pacies" to calm them down.
The new small study of out of Oregon Health and Science University shows that this notion of pacifiers interfering and preventing good breast-feeding may not be the case at all. Researchers looked at 2,250 infants born between June 2010 and August 2011 and found that when pacifiers were only allowed for limited, supervised use by nurses and not routinely available for moms, there was not an increase in breast-feeding, as they had expected.
In fact, the opposite occurred. They found a significant drop in the rate of breast-feeding after pacifier restriction, from about 80% to 68%. In addition, after restriction of pacifiers, researchers also found an 18% increase in -- I dare not say, but yes -- formula use! Despite this encouraging study, many staunch breast-feeders are still are not convinced.
In my own experience as a mother who succumbed to the allure of the "binkie," I found that my son was apparently some form of nipple savant. He certainly didn't have any nipple confusion. In fact, he was able to use and discern between those nipples on my breasts, those on a baby bottle, those used by the sitter with my pumped breast milk and even the ones on the pacifiers! Yes, he could use them all and go back and forth in between them hourly with ease, he was ambi-nippleous!
As a physician and a mom, I am well aware of the benefits and the importance of breast-feeding. The list of benefits is endless. In the past, physicians spoke of its importance in bonding and passing your immunity on to your baby. However, recent research goes beyond that. There are studies that show it can the decrease risk of childhood obesity, and for heaven sake some studies even tout higher SAT scores (well at least higher IQ!) While advocates stress the longer the better, if your kid can ask for some milk to put in his coffee, I think enough is enough!
I don't intent to diminish in any way the importance of breast-feeding. However, I often feel too much pressure is put on new moms. I am against hard-core extremists that guilt you into doing it longer or more often than you are comfortable doing. I remember my own experience with a horrible infection and nipple ulcer -- I thought my nipple might fall off, but I was determined to continue to feed and pump. And to this day, I still have this irrational fear that if my son does not get into his first choice of college, I know I will still blame myself for quitting too early!
Hopefully, this new research can start to put to rest the pacifier guilt and will stop hospitals from locking down the binkies as if they are controlled substances!
And for those addled, sleep-deprived moms whose kids continue to shriek, even after they have been breast-fed, rocked, walked, vacuumed near for hours, placed on the washing machine or in the car circling the block for the 100th time... enough is enough... just stick a pacifier in his mouth.
If only it was that easy to quiet a surly teenager!
Follow Leigh Vinocur, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/doctor_leigh