So, pacifiers, soother, dummies, dodi, binky, whatever you call them! Love them, hate them, use them, or lose them? What’s the story?
Well, it’s kind of 50 Shades of Grey….. The jury is out and it remains a controversial topic. Let’s have look at what the research says. (Most of the studies mentioned here are reported in an excellent book on children’s speech that I’m reading at the moment- see Sources at the end). So, first the good news! Using a soother has been associated with reduced SIDS (a study from 2014), a faster move to oral feeding in premature babies (a study from 2012) and less pain during painful procedures (a study from 1999).
On the other hand, using a soother has also been associated with an increased risk of ear infections (a study from 2008), oral candida (a study from 2006), tummy bugs & diarrhoea (a study from 2015), & dental problems ( a study from 2014). The dental problems are things like an open bite where the teeth don’t meet when the child closes their teeth together. Here is what that looks like: Open bite . Chronic ear infections and dental problems can impact negatively on speech and language development.
Other research suggests it can lead to nipple confusion in new born babies and possibly reduced opportunities for breastfeeding. Although it turns out that not all research supports a definite link between soother use and reduced breastfeeding (studies from 2012 and 2015). See what I mean by 50 shades?
Finally, another study in 2012 reported on in this brilliant new book by Sharynne McLeod and Elise Baker looked at potential links between soother use and children’s emotional development. School-aged boys who frequently used them at home during the day as a toddler had poorer facial mimicry. ‘So what?’ you might say. But this is an ability considered important in children’s emotional development. In this study, they also found that longer time periods of soother use predicted lower emotional intelligence in young adult males. (For any speech and language therapists reading, this new book is the only one you’ll ever need for working with children who have speech sound disorders- I’ve put the link below).
So what is a parent to do? Well 75-85% of Western children are reported to use one and they are thought to be potentially beneficial in the first 6 months of life according to a review of research from 2009. The problem is that if the child has the soother in their mouth for a lot of the time, then their opportunities for babbling, exploring their own ability to make sounds, and having great conversations are reduced. And it can be a bit of a slippery slope once they get in the habit, it’s harder to get rid of it.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to mindful use of the soother. What does that mean though? If it genuinely soothes a baby when it seems like nothing else does, then fair enough. That makes sense. Non-nutritive sucking as it’s called is a natural instinct in babies and it does soothe; it can help with falling asleep and with discomfort from teething. Babies and infants sucked their fingers long before soothers were ever heard of! The American Association of Family Physicians suggests not introducing the soother until the baby is 1 month old and has learned to breastfeed well. And then it’s a case of paying attention and making sure it’s not in their mouth habitually when they don’t need soothing. Are there other things that might soothe your baby like cuddles, distraction with a toy, baby massage, music, singing to them and so on? I would try really hard not to have it in their mouth while they are talking as this interferes with communication. And when to cut it out altogether? Well the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend weaning children from pacifiers in the second six months of life to prevent ear infections (2009 review of the research). One paper from dentistry that I came across (although it’s from 2003) which surveyed the research suggests limiting use of the soother starting at age 2 and have it gone entirely before or at 4 years to limit potential negative effects on the child’s teeth.
So, I hope you found this post useful. If you liked it, please pass it onto your friends. Be sure and leave a comment below. What do you call them in your country? What has your experience with them been?
Let’s get talking!
Steven Adair (2003) Pacifier use in children: a review of recent literature. Paediatric Dentistry. 25:449-458.
McLeod & Baker, (2017) Children’s speech: An Evidence based approach to assessment and intervention. London: Pearson.
Sexton & Natale (2009) Risks and benefits of pacifiers. American Family Physician 15; 79 (8): 681-685.