There are a lot of opinions about pacifiers for breastfeeding babies and some experts will recommend limiting their use or not introducing them at all. Let’s look at the reasoning behind this recommendation. Pacifiers or ‘dummies’ as they call them in the UK are essentially an artificial nipple made for babies to ‘pacify’ them until their next feeding. When we use a pacifier for our breastfeeding baby, especially in the early weeks, we can miss important feeding cues that our baby uses to let us know they’re ready to nurse. Some of these cues are putting their hand to their mouth, sticking their tongue out, mouthing, etc. and are impossible for a baby to do while sucking on a pacifier. Pacifiers also decrease the amount of time our baby suckles at the breast which can sometimes lead to poor weight gain in baby and/or decreased milk supply for mom. When we allow our baby to nurse and/or suckle at the breast often in the early weeks, they are essentially establishing mothers milk supply. Pacifiers can really limit this special communication between the baby and the breast and because of this, babies who receive pacifiers are more likely to wean from the breast earlier than babies who don’t use one.
Pacifiers certainly do have their place and can be beneficial in certain situations, even for babies who are or will be breastfeeding. Pacifiers can help premature infants practice and strengthen their sucking reflex and can help tube fed babies associate sucking with food when given simultaneously. Pacifiers also may help reduce the risk of SIDS. Although, breastfeeding alone already decreases the risk of SIDS by more than 50% so this benefit is more for bottle fed babies. Pacifiers are great when used to soothe babies during medical procedures or even in less serious situations like riding in the car or passing the time while mom runs an errand.
As an LC, I’m often asked if and when a pacifier can be introduced to a baby. I typically ask moms to try and wait at least 4-6 weeks until their milk supply is established first. It’s also important that the baby’s weight gain has been sufficient before offering a pacifier. Make sure you are offering the breast first and only allowing the baby have the pacifier for short intervals such as on car rides, in a store, or in places when nursing isn’t possible. As a mom, you make the best decisions for you and your unique situation and if that includes using an occasional pacifier for your baby, then so be it! However, if you and your baby have been fine getting along without a pacifier so far, save yourself potential problems down the road and just don’t even offer one.