Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Pacifiers, friend or foe?

What is a pacifier?

A binkie, soother, sou sou, or pacifier, whatever you want to call it, is a device that baby can suck on to soothe herself.  Babies have a natural tendency to want to suck, and the pacifier can meet those needs.

In my opinion, there is place for a pacifier in the first 0-3 months of life.  During this period we do what we have to do to soothe our baby, they have limited ability to do this independently.  I am a big fan of Dr. Harvey Karps 5’s.  The Swing, Swaddle, SShhhh, Suck and Sidelying positions as a means of soothing a baby.  Dr. Karp’s website quotes that done properly, these 5 S’ will soothe 98% of babies.  We are 2 for 2 , or 100% at my house using the swaddle and swing techniques.

Pacifiers also work very well for babies with stomach issues.  I read somewhere that the sucking motion causes motility in the small intestine, there by helping to work food/gas through the bowel.  The more quickly food passes through, the faster digestion, and less time baby spends being uncomfortable.

Where do pacifiers fail us?

Babies can become dependent on soothers, which really isn’t an issue, except when its 11 pm, and then 1 am and then 3 am and you are continuously going into your baby’s room to re-insert the pacificer so that she can fall back sleep.  The use of the soother becomes counter productive. I receive countless emails from parents who are confused because their babies slept fabulously those first few months swaddled with their soother, until about 4 months.  At 4 months, they are waking up more frequently and the parents have to go in and reinsert the soother.  The soother is not so soothing anymore, at least not to the parents anyways!

What is happening here?

Essentially, the soother has become a “sleep crutch”.  Baby thinks she must have it in her mouth to be able to fall asleep, and cries out when she surfaces at night and it is not there.  She uses the rhythmic sucking motion as a means to relax her into sleep.  Why now?  At this time, babies hit the 4 month sleep regression, where they become far more aware of their surrounding world and their sleep patterns change to incorporate more “light” sleep cycles.  The result is a baby who wakes up more frequently and is curious about what’s happening around her.  The first 3 months of life are often referred to as the 4th trimester, as if baby is still in the womb, because she’ll often sleep everywhere and anywhere and be unaffected by her surroundings.

What should these parents do?

If your baby has become addicted to the soother, then you are going to have to keep going into her room and reinsert the soother until about 6.5 months when she’ll develop the dexterity to find the soother and reinsert it.  You can scatter the crib with soothers so that she’ll find one, or if you are comfortable with it, tether it to her pjs somehow in a safe manner and teach her to run her hand down the tether to find it.

Does that seem entirely too long and super painful?  It did to me.

Then you will have to teach your baby to fall asleep without the soother.  That is another post entirely.  Essentially called “sleep training”.

I worked with one Mom who was exasperated and exhausted with having to go in repeatedly at night to re-insert the soother into her 4 month old’s room.  She wondered if she could just use it at naps or out and about during the day. Here’s the thing:  if your child needs the soother during the day time, you are essentially just using it as a band aid to overlook some other issue that is troubling her, such as fatigue, or hunger. Why would you want to do that?

My advice was to give her a lovie, a little security blanket that smells like Mom, and go cold turkey on the soother and teach her to soothe herself.  This took a few days to be established but ultimately her baby was able to soothe herself to sleep.  She would lie her baby down in her crib fully awake and have her baby put herself to sleep.  No more repeated entries at night time. Mom was so happy to have taken the plunge to try something new.  Often we are so afraid of making a change we stay with the status quo and drive ourselves deeper and deeper in to fatigue.  Change can be good.  And when it comes to babies and sleep it is inevitable.  Don’t be afraid to try new things.

Did you find my information helpful?  You can join my FREE Helping Babies Sleep Facebook Group where you can post sleep questions and hear from myself and other Moms.  Feel free to offer your support as well.

If you want to improve things quickly and are interested in personalized sleep help, I offer free 15 minute calls to discuss your situation and how I can help. Contact Me!

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