By: Jessica Drake-Simmons M.S. CCC-SLP
Babies show a natural tendency to suck on fingers and thumbs from the time they are in utero. Sucking provides comfort and is a natural way for babies to explore the environment. Allowing a baby to suck on a pacifier can have the advantages of helping to sooth a fussy baby, providing a distraction and helping a baby fall asleep. Additionally, pacifiers may help minimize reflux. The Mayo Clinic suggests that a pacifier could help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome when used at nap time and bedtime.
The problem with pacifiers comes when little ones become dependent on them. As a speech-language pathologist, seeing kids more frequently in their toddler years and beyond, I see some of the detrimental effects that persistent pacifier use can cause. The preferred oral rest posture is having the lips closed, tongue placed up against the roof of the mouth, a slight space between the teeth and nasal breathing. This oral rest posture supports dental alignment and wide rounded dental arches. Prolonged pacifier use (or other sucking habits) can cause a child’s teeth to be misaligned or not come in properly.
A study from Van Norman, 2001 found that 60% of dental malocclusions were related to sucking habits. When the shape of the roof of the mouth is changed and dental malocclusions are created, kids can develop articulation errors such as a forward tongue position for production of /s/ (lisping). Obstructing the mouth with a pacifier can negatively impact babbling and imitation of sounds. Additionally, there is a correlation between pacifier use and increased incidence of ear infections. Frequent ear infections are a common cause of speech and language delays.
Guidelines to follow for pacifier use:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to offer a pacifier until a baby is 3-4 weeks old when breast feeding is well established.
- Don’t use the pacifier as a first line of defense. Try other strategies such as changing positions or rocking the baby to sooth them.
- Use the appropriate size pacifier for your babies age in order to help maintain correct jaw alignment.
- Recommendations vary between 6 months and 2 years for when it is appropriate to discontinue pacifier use. It can be easiest to wean the pacifier by the time a baby is 12 months.
- Use pacifiers that are rounded on all sides. This allows for a more natural position of the tongue during non-nutritive sucking.
For help with discontinuing pacifier use: http://www.orofacialmyology.com/StopPacifier
To learn more about speech language-pathology and Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley visit eastersealsdfvr.org