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The Great Pacifier Debate

From Grandma to complete strangers, everyone has an opinion on whether you should let Baby use a dummy.  Even the experts don’t agree!



So you think the pacifier will, well, pacify your little darling and help her rest better? Think again, says Tizzie Hall, the author of the Save Our Sleep series. You’re more likely to set her up for more problems. According to Tizzie, who also runs an infant sleep solutions business in Australia, three out of five parents who seek her help gave their infant a soother. Babies who use it tend to wake more frequently than those who don’t. That’s because the intermittent sucking disturbs their sleep patterns and they often find it harder to achieve deep sleep. “A baby who goes to sleep with a dummy will also wake up expecting to suck it. But if it has fallen out, she will cry for you to come and put it back into her mouth. By the time you attend to her, she’ll probably be so awake that it’ll be hard for her to get back to sleep,” she explains. It isn’t just bedtime issues that bother the experts. Long-term use can lead to dental problems such as an open bite in the front (more commonly referred to as “Bugs Bunny” teeth), where the upper and lower rows of teeth do not meet, adds dental surgeon Doreen Chua from Unity Denticare.

Dr Chua shares that bad teeth alignment can also affect the way your child pronounces letters like “f” or “s”. Indeed, speech therapists are also against the use of pacifiers. The concern is that children who are attached to their binkies might not want to remove them when they speak. This would affect their speech development, says Dr Natalie Epton, specialist paediatrician and neonatologist at International Medical Clinic. “If you watch a contented baby lying in her cot, she will be looking around and making babbling sounds. This is her first attempt at speech,” notes Tizzie. “A baby with a pacifier, however, will be concentrating on sucking and will not be looking around or babbling.” And as with any artificial teat, a soother can interfere with your breastfeeding efforts, especially in the first three to four weeks when your newborn is learning to latch on, says Cynthia Pang, assistant director of nursing and senior lactation consultant at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Rather than rely on a pacifier, teach her to soothe herself, especially during bedtime. It’s important that she learns to drift from one sleep cycle to the next without your help – or the aid of a dummy, advises Tizzie. So get down to basics: have a consistent routine. And when you put her in the cot, make sure she’s drowsy but still awake. Also, find out why your little darling is crying or fussing, instead of giving her a binky. “A pacifier can mask other problems. Often, when a baby finishes her feed and is unsettled, the parent will pop a pacifier into her mouth straightaway,” observes Tizzie. “But the little one could be crying because she needs more milk or has wind.”


Babies have an instinctive sucking reflex that gives them comfort. Some even start sucking their thumbs or fingers while in their mother’s womb, says Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, specialist in paediatrics and consultant at Raffles Children’s Centre. Using a pacifier satisfies that need and offers your fussy baby a sense of security – if she takes to it. It can even help distract your little one during vaccinations, says Dr Sinnathamby. Many research studies also suggest that pacifier use at bedtime can reduce a young child’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

While long-term reliance can eventually lead to dental and speech problems, Dr Chua from Unity Denticare takes the middle stance. She points out that babies are born without teeth, so a pacifier will not harm oral development. But she recommends that toddlers should give it up by the time they turn two years old. “By the time a child is three years old, she’ll have a full set of baby teeth. Some kids’ permanent teeth come in as early as four to five years old. If they are still on the pacifier by then, they may end up with teeth alignment problems,” warns Dr Chua. Would getting an orthodontic-friendly soother help? Not really, she says. Sucking on one will still cause uneven, crooked teeth in the long run, however well designed it claims to be. But if you intend to pop one into your baby’s mouth, get one with vents for better air circulation. This helps prevent rashes around the lips, she adds. A silicone soother is also safer and more hygienic than a latex one. “Silicone is harder and can withstand more wear and tear, so it is more difficult for a baby with teeth to bite through. With rubber or latex pacifiers, germs can easily get trapped within the small crevices, so it’s important that you sterilise them regularly,” says Dr Chua. And wait until Baby is one month old before introducing it, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. This is when breastfeeding is usually well established and may help prevent nipple confusion. Still, you shouldn’t allow it as a permanent fixture in her mouth, says Dr Epton. Let her know when and where she can use it – for instance, just before bedtime. Having restrictions also makes it easier when you want to break the habit, she says. Don’t forget to schedule a dental checkup for your child, too. If you haven’t already done so, plan for one when she is around three years old, says Dr Chua.


By Eveline Gan, Young Parents, November 2014

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