Pacifiers, nipple confusion and nursing

Q: What’s the story on pacifiers, nipple confusion and nursing? What about thumb sucking? I’m expecting next month and would like some information.

A: Infants find sucking to be very soothing. They also like to exercise their facial structures and this probably helps enhance speech and language skills. It’s an important developmental task and way to take in nutrition. 

In other words, it serves a lot of purposes immediately and long term. Because of this, infants will suck on a variety of different objects — bottles, pacifiers, fingers and toys. Infants can’t suck too much, but you should have some control over what they use.

There’s some difference of opinion regarding breastfeeding, pacifiers and nipple confusion. Many professionals believe pacifiers are fine to use, and will not interfere with breastfeeding. On the other hand, if breastfeeding does not go well, a pacifier will likely get blamed. 

The real cause for most problems encountered with nursing has more to do with the mechanics of breastfeeding, milk supply, postpartum stressors and/or characteristics of the baby’s mouth and tongue. Working with a lactation specialist may be a good way to improve success if you find yourself with nursing-related problems.

About 12 month of age is a good time to reduce and/or stop using pacifiers and bottles. Toddlers are very capable eaters and drinkers at that age, and they don’t need these objects to further develop their oromotor skills. It’s more challenging to stop bottles and pacifiers at 18 months compared with a year of age because a strong object-attraction phase starts around 15 months.