Pacifiers: Good or Bad for Breastfeeding Babies?

Are Pacifiers Good For Babies?

There’s probably no baby issue more discussed than the use of pacifiers for babies. Rather than jumping into that large debate, today I’m here to look specifically at using pacifiers for a breastfeeding baby, specifically a newborn.

Babies need to suck and most are born knowing how to suck. Sucking obviously is used to transfer milk, but for a newborn especially, sucking is also a powerful self-calming tool. Enter the pacifier. Pacifiers do just what they say: help calm a baby or young child. Now, no one is recommending that we don’t want to calm a child. We are suggesting that you familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of using a pacifier with a breastfeeding newborn prior to using one.

The Pros of Pacifiers for Breastfeeding Newborns

The Cons of Pacifiers for Breastfeeding Newborns

  • The early use of a pacifier may be a missed opportunity to build a milk supply.
  • Use of a pacifier my hinder a newborn’s ability to learn to suckle well
  • Use of a pacifier may mask breastfeeding issues

There are two places where breastfeeding and pacifiers can intersect. A baby is programmed to take a nice, soft, pliable human nipple. Some babies are born knowing exactly what to do; others need practice. For those babies that need practice, breastfeeding is a skill that has to be learned. While a baby is learning this new and very important skill, introducing something different into their mouth can muddle and complicate things. In some cases the pacifier may get in the way of really learning how to suckle at the breast well.

Frequent suckling and emptying of the breast are key factors for establishing a good milk supply. The more often a newborn can nurse (especially while they are still learning), the better mom’s milk supply will be. Frequent feedings in the first few days usually reduce the severity of any discomfort for mom from engorgement. So, at the beginning, baby needs to be at the breast to do his part of the job. The use of a pacifier in these early days may be a missed opportunity both to have the baby practice and build a milk supply.

The American Academy of Pediatrics2 recommends putting babies to sleep on their back with a pacifier to reduce the incidence of SIDS. This recommendation specifically includes the phrase: after breastfeeding is well established. Again, these considerations relate to newborns. Pacifier use once breastfeeding is well established is a non-issue.

Sue Petracek, IBCLC
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Expansion of Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping EnvironmentOctober, 2011
  2. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Clinical Protocol #7: Model Breastfeeding Policy (Revision 2010) 

We want to know what you think!