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Pacifiers: The Great Debate

One day when my son Adrian was not yet 1, I took him grocery shopping. As usual, Adrian was using his pacifier to distract him from the discomfort of being strapped into the cart as we did this boring errand. While waiting to purchase our groceries, I noticed the elderly woman in front of us staring at Adrian. I caught her eye and smiled, to which she replied, “Take that thing out of his mouth. He’s never going to start speaking if you plug him up all the time.”

I was startled. How do you respond to someone criticizing your parenting choices? As a new mom, I constantly worried that I was ruining my child. And pacifiers were a particularly sensitive topic for me.

Boy with pacifier.

When I was still pregnant with Adrian, I had heard all the terrible things about pacifiers from veteran moms. I swore I’d never use them. But on the first night home from the hospital, when Adrian wouldn’t stop crying, I caved. As he slipped quietly into sleep sucking blissfully on his new binky, I felt guilty. Was I encouraging a bad habit?

As it turns out, most experts agree that the decision is up to the parents because there are both advantages and disadvantages to pacifier use. The Mayo Clinic’s website lists some of the drawbacks of using a binky: it may interfere with breastfeeding, your baby may not learn to soothe himself and it may increase the risk of ear infections or dental problems. However, the same website also lists the benefits of pacifier use: it may protect against SIDS, it provides a source of comfort or distraction for a fussy baby, it satisfies a baby’s strong suck reflex and it eases discomfort on airplanes. In addition, WebMD suggests it is easier to wean a child off a pacifier than his thumb.

On Parents.com, Marguerite Lamb’s article discusses a few expert-backed options for when and how to wean children off pacifiers. My husband and I decided to wait until Adrian was 2so that he could understand what was happening and communicate his feelings. We chose to follow Lamb’s “Three Day Plan” because it best fit our parenting style. For a few days, we talked to Adrian about giving up his binky. Then, Adrian helped us find all the pacifiers and placed them in a special box. My husband had Adrian say “thank you” and “goodbye” to his beloved friends, and then I quietly disposed of the box while Adrian was distracted. Adrian was tremendously proud of himself and told everyone that he was a “big boy now.” He struggled with sleep for a few nights, but overall it was a smooth process.

The lady in the grocery store had a very valid opinion: there are drawbacks to using pacifiers. But experts also argue that there are tremendous benefits, and that it is a personal decision all parents must make. Adrian’s binky brought him comfort when he needed it, and that is what was important to me in the end.

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