What Should I Know About Giving My Breastfed Baby a Pacifier?

Peaceful woman lying with her baby who is sucking a pacifier indoors

Sucking is perhaps the most basic of all infant reflexes. Infants suckle for nourishment and comfort. This need to suck is a survival skill; if your baby were to refuse to suckle, and thus eat, they would die. To prevent this, human infants have evolved to find suckling pleasurable.

For centuries, offering your baby your breast has been the best way to calm your infant. However, as our culture has grown more fast-paced and women have moved away from breastfeeding, offering a pacifier has become a popular way to calm a crying baby. If you are a breastfeeding mother, you might be wondering whether or not offering a pacifier is the best thing for your baby or if it’s even safe for maintaining your breastfeeding relationship. Below, you’ll find several things to consider when offering a pacifier to your breastfed baby.

When to Introduce a Pacifier

The general rule of thumb is to wait until your milk supply is well established and you and your baby have perfected your latch technique. This means:

  • You’ve got no nipple soreness while nursing.
  • Your baby is able to stay on the breast without slipping off the nipple for an entire feeding.
  • Your milk has come in completely, and you’re not experiencing any engorgement or hard, full breasts.
  • You are not experiencing any plugged ducts or mastitis. During an episode like this, you’ll want your baby to suckle exclusively from your breast.

For most women, this is when your baby is between six weeks old and three months, although Le Leche League International suggests women wait until six months before introducing a pacifier. While some women offer pacifiers to their infants earlier with no issues, there are some potential problems related to pacifier use.

Risks of Introducing too Early

  • Pacifier use in the first few weeks after birth is associated with slow infant growth.
  • Problems with latching on to the nipple are often found in infants who use pacifiers early on. This is why it’s so important to ensure that you’ve got a great latch relationship before offering a pacifier.
  • Possible increase in ear infections has been documented with pacifier use.
  • A woman’s milk supply is determined by a supply-and-demand system that is greatly influenced by her baby’s sucking. An infant who is spending too much time with a pacifier risks lowering his mother’s milk supply.

Pacifier Use’s Impact on Your Milk Supply

A mother’s milk changes from colostrum to the breast milk we’re familiar with between two and five days post-birth. The more often your baby is nursing at your breast, the sooner your milk will come in. This means that a baby sucking on a pacifier in place of the breast may be delaying her mother’s milk supply coming in, contributing to slow weight gain, and often, a frustrated baby.

Once a woman’s milk has come in, her supply is determined by how often the baby is at her breast, actively nursing. With each suckle, hormones are released to promote “let down” or the emptying of milk from the breast. Breasts left full for too long tell your body to stop producing milk, while empty breasts tell your body to make more, keeping your supply healthy and robust.

With pacifier use, the baby may not be nursing at the breast as often as is necessary to keep up a healthy milk supply. If you find that your breasts are often full while your baby is using a pacifier, you need to remove the pacifier and nurse instead. This will keep your body in sync with the hormonal supply and demand system your body has so expertly crafted.

Using a Pacifier is a Choice Only You Can Make!

As mentioned before, not all women have problems with their milk supply or breastfeeding relationship while using a pacifier. Other women will see that their supply and their infant’s latch are suffering if they have used a pacifier in the early weeks, or even later on in infancy. Using a pacifier can be a quick way to calm your baby on the run and a helpful tool for Dad or babysitters. Whether or not you use a pacifier is your personal choice, and it’s important to keep it that way! Do the research and make an educated decision for you and your baby, choosing the avenue that works best for you.

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