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Posted by on Jan 11, 2013 in Articles, Mom 2 Mom | 0 comments

Mom 2 Mom: Is Thumbsucking or Pacifier Use Healthy?

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Mallory writes:

My two month old is addicted to his paci! He also likes to suck his thumb. Is any of this healthy for him? I use his pacifier to soothe sometimes and other times he acts like he needs it. The thumbsucking is a new development and I have never had to figure this out before. My daughter never needed a paci or to suck her thumb when she was younger.


Dear Mallory,

You’d never think it, but pacifiers are actually a pretty controversial topic, so it matters which camp you fall in. Babies have intense sucking needs. So what’s the controversy all about?

Some say that a baby’s need to suck should be met at the breast. Of course, that does not work for bottle-fed babies, and I even know some breastfed babies that still had an intense urge to suck even after nursing.  When this is the case, it would be better to let your child suck your (clean) finger or let him suck his own thumb, rather than a paci. Why? There is something about skin-to-skin of using a finger or thumb, and, also, your baby’s thumb is easy to find in the middle of the night! And, you don’t have to worry about it falling on the floor.

But the real controversy is whether or not is healthy to let a child be “nurtured” by paci or his thumb. If pacifiers are used as a “mute plug” or are used to constantly comfort a child, that could be an unhealthy attachment. According to Dr. Sears:

To insert the plug … every time he cries is an unhealthy reliance on an artificial comforter… Pacifiers are meant to satisfy intense sucking needs, not to delay or replace nurturing.

boy pacifierChildren need to learn emotional regulation, and this will come with age. The best way to teach emotional regulation is to nurture children through touch, humming, and rocking.

Pacifiers also increase the likelihood of middle-ear infections. Prolonged use can also lead to orthodontic problems. That is why pacifiers should be taken away by one year of age, but thumb-sucking can safely be continued until age 3. Early use of pacifiers can also lead to nipple-confusion and interfere with breastfeeding.

But, are they really all that bad? Others say no and that babies just need to suck. Pacifiers can also be a lifesaver in places like church on a Sunday morning. They can also be physically comforting to children on planes and good for children with reflux. Best of all, pacifying on the breast, thumb, or paci may help reduce the risk of SIDS.  They also help to give mom a little break when she really, really needs it.

I guess what I am saying is that you know your baby best. If you feel he needs his paci to meet his intense sucking need, then go ahead and give it to him. I don’t think it will hurt anything. If you think he needs it just to be comforted, try something else, like wearing him in a sling, rocking him, or singing to him, using the paci only on occasion. It’s always healthier to get him to rely on you to be comforted than something else. It builds trust and your bond and helps him learn emotional regulation.

It is obvious that you are a great mom and want what is best for your child, which is all that really matters at the end of the day. Follow your instincts and you will make the best decision for your child.

If you do decide to continue on with a pacifier, here are some tips for selecting the best one:

  • Choose a one-piece paci and avoid using contraptions to secure the paci to your baby in case it falls.
  • Choose a paci that is dishwasher safe and easy to clean.
  • If your baby is bottle-fed, choose one that is similar to the shape of the nipple on his bottle. If he is breastfed, choose one that is longer and flattened more like the nipple of the breast.
  • Choose a paci with ventilation holes
  • Use a smaller paci for a younger child




For this and many other helpful articles for moms, along with tips and tricks for being a great mom, visit

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