I remember the first time I gave my newborn a pacifier. She was two weeks old, and I felt like I had admitted defeat. Why couldn't I calm her myself? Was I being lazy? Would she now reject breastfeeding?
Luckily, I came across some reassuring research in my guilt-ridden Googling. According to studies, giving a baby a pacifier can help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). And research also suggests that it has no impact on breastfeeding success.
Using a Pacifier at Bedtime Can Reduce SIDS Risk
"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies use pacifiers because sucking the pacifier reduces SIDS," Dr. Robin Jacobson, a pediatrician at NYU Langone, told me. Published studies have demonstrated a significant reduced risk of SIDS with pacifier use, particularly when offered for sleep. Based on this research, experts recommend parents give an infant a pacifier at both daytime naps and nighttime sleeps until they are one year old. After that, the risk of SIDS go down, and a child no longer has a strong need to suck.
It's OK to Give a Breastfeeding Newborn a Pacifier
To avoid the dreaded "nipple confusion" — aka the idea that a baby will have trouble sucking on a breast once it gets used to a pacifier or bottle — Dr. Jacobson said parents might want to wait until the baby is three or four weeks old and has established latching. But research also suggests that might not be necessary. A meta-analysis of two studies showed that pacifier use in healthy breastfeeding infants had no significant effect on the proportion of infants exclusively breastfed at three months and at four months of age. Pacifier use also didn't impact the proportion of infants who were partially breastfed, in addition to receiving formula.
The paper read: "In motivated mothers, there is moderate-quality evidence that pacifier use in healthy term breastfeeding infants before and after lactation is established does not reduce the duration of breastfeeding up to four months of age." In other words, if you're dedicated to breastfeeding, there is little risk to giving your newborn a pacifier, even before breastfeeding is well-established. And you'll get all the upsides of reduced SIDS risk.
Some Downsides of Pacifiers
As a baby gets older, the downsides of a pacifier may begin to outweigh the benefits. After the first year, you're child could become dependent on it. And it's not so fun for you when your baby cries in the middle of the night each time their binkie falls out. Prolonged use could also lead to dental problems. Finally, you want to make sure you use a silicone pacifier that can be washed in the dishwasher and doesn't have any parts that can come loose. Check out these from Dr. Browns or Philips Avent Soothie.
Knowing all this, I am now guilt free when I use a pacifier to make bedtime easier. It's not just good for me. It's good for my baby, too.