Breastfeeding is increasingly being recognized as the “gold standard” in infant nutrition due to its immense benefits for babies and new mothers. Breast-milk is packed with vitamins, nutrients, and disease-fighting components that will prepare your baby for his first months of life. Not only does breastfeeding help protect your baby from numerous illnesses, allergies, SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), and obesity, but the practice can reduce the risk of postpartum depression as well as breast and ovarian cancer. What’s not to love? So, in what seemed to be a relatively straightforward effort to increase breastfeeding, a hospital sought to decrease the distribution of pacifiers, which prior studies claimed decreased the amount of time babies drank breast milk. However, things didn’t quite go as planned.
Conventional wisdom claims that the more pacifier use a baby has in the newborn period, the less likely breastfeeding will be successful. Since exclusive breastfeeding is a major goal of newborn medicine, it seems logical that restricting pacifier use would increase the likelihood that a baby will be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, right? This theory was put to the test recently at a major hospital with a surprising result: decreasing the distribution of pacifiers did not increase the success of breastfeeding, rather, the paciless group actually ended up consuming more infant formula than their paci sucking counterparts.
The use of pacifiers continues to be controversial as this study highlights. Their use is probably not the big factor in whether mothers are successful at breastfeeding. Lets face it, breastfeeding a small infant is a difficult endeavor, requiring 24 hour a day dedication. It is my opinion that the support, or lack of support by hospitals, doctors, families, and society in general are probably the big factors that determine whether a mother is ultimately successful at breastfeeding, not whether there are pacifiers around in the newborn period. I think we all can agree that the common goal should be to have every baby get the very best nutritional start in life they can, pacifiers or no pacifiers.
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written by Keri Register and Paul Smolen M.D.