What is the sucking reflex?
The sucking reflex is perhaps one of the most important survival skills a baby is born with. Babies learn to suck when they are in the womb. Sucking helps the baby get nutrition apart from comforting them. Some babies love to suck their fingers or thumbs, whereas some enjoy sucking pacifiers. Available in several colors and designs, pacifiers are probably one of the most alluring accessories you could buy for your baby. Pacifiers are most helpful for babies younger than 6 months of age. However, they come with their benefits and flaws.
What are the benefits of pacifiers?
Besides making the baby look super adorable, pacifiers also help to do the following:
- Soothe a fussy baby: Sucking on a pacifier may help calm the baby. This may be particularly useful at night or when you are in a public place.
- A baby to fall asleep: Pacifiers may come to the rescue when you are having a hard time getting your baby to sleep.
- Provide temporary distractions: If you are taking your baby for a medical checkup or vaccination, carrying a pacifier may help distract your baby while the health care professional vaccinates, examines, or collects blood samples from your baby.
- Reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Experts suggest that if your baby sucks on a pacifier during sleep, their sleep is lighter. This may lower the risk of SIDS for your baby.
- Protect against earache during a flight: It is advised to feed your baby during take-off and landing to reduce the risk of earaches. Sucking on the pacifier does the same job, especially if your baby isn't hungry or is asleep.
Besides, it may be an easier habit to wean off. If your child is addicted to sucking their thumb or fingers, you may find a hard time stopping them beyond a certain age. You can, however, just throw away a pacifier to help your baby break the habit.
What are the risks of pacifiers?
- Pacifiers may interfere with your child’s feeding. This is especially a risk in babies less than 1 month of age. Hence, it is better to avoid giving a pacifier to a baby until they have learned to breastfeed well, which is generally when the baby is around a month old. Also, before giving the pacifier to calm your baby, ensure that the baby is not hungry. If so, feed the baby instead.
- Pacifiers may cause dental problems when children continue to use them after their second birthday. Hence, just as the time of introducing your baby to pacifiers is important, so is the time to wean them off pacifiers.
- Pacifiers may cause infections, including ear infections. You must make sure that you wash your baby's pacifier frequently.
- Pacifiers may cause choking hazards, especially when they have loose parts as seen in two-piece pacifiers. Use a one-piece pacifier that comes with a protective shield wider than your baby’s mouth. The shield must have a hole in it. Do not use a ribbon or any tie with the pacifier because it may accidentally strangle the baby.
To summarize, pacifiers are relatively safe when used properly. Pacifiers must not be used as a quick fix every time to calm your baby. Check whether your baby is hungry or has a dirty diaper. Tend to those needs first before giving a pacifier to the baby. Always try calming your baby by holding, rocking, or singing to them. This will help strengthen your bond with the baby and make them calmer, more confident, and happier. Do not force your baby to use a pacifier. Do not add honey, juice, or jelly to the pacifier to lure your baby into using it. Doctors generally advise caregivers to wean their child off pacifiers by 6 to 12 months of age. Do not give a pacifier to a child over 4 years of age.