Pacifiers & Speech Development
There have been various claims about the advantages of using the pacifier (or dummy) for babies. However, we need more clinical research before we can validate these findings. Nevertheless, let us take a look at the pros and cons pertaining to the use of pacifiers.
The Good Things
- The pacifier is something that babies often find soothing and comforting. It can sometimes help babies settle to bed (although there is currently no clinical research to prove this).
- A pacifier is thought to help babies with reflux. This is because sucking a pacifier increases saliva production and the saliva may help neutralise acid as it comes back up from the stomach (however research has yet to prove that episodes of reflux have been reduced).
- Research is suggesting that using a pacifier for babies between 1 month and 1 year old may protect a child against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). However this relationship is not fully understood, and should never be used as the only way to protect a child against SIDS.
The Not-So-Good Things
- The pacifier may be plagued by bacteria and this could lead to the increase the risk of gastro and fungal infections in the mouth. This may also lead to tooth decay.
- The use of a pacifier may increase the risk of middle ear infections and subsequent glue ear. This is because sucking on a pacifier increases the amount of fluids that flow and secret from your baby's throat to the middle ear. This in turn increases the risk of infection by allowing bateria and virus that may be present in the pacifier to enter the middle ear, thus resulting in infections. Read about a 5-year study on pacifiers and 495 children between 0 and 4 years old conducted in the Netherlands here.
- The use of a pacifier (including the 'orthodontic' variation), particularly one of prolonged use, increases the risk of jaw and dental malformation as it puts the mouth in an unnatural position. Orthodontics might therefore be required later in life.
- Using the pacifier may result in decreased breastfeeding duration due to its association with nipple confusion. This would in turn lead to a decrease in milk supply.
- Pacifiers have also been associated with some unusual problems, like latex allergy and choking resulting in death.
The Relationship Between Pacifiers & Speech Development
- If babies constantly have pacifiers in their mouths, this gives them little opportunity for vocal play, copying facial expression and mouth movements.
- Learning sounds that require the movement of the tongue (e.g. tongue tip sounds like "t", "d", "l" where the tongue has to be lifted up) would be difficult to achieve with a pacifier inside the mouth.
- In some cases, using a pacifier frequently can result in the tongue pushing foward between the teeth. When this happens, this may lead to the development of a "lisp" where the tongue sticks out (instead of the appropriate way where our tongue is behind our teeth) when the child is producing sounds like "s" and "z".
What Can You Do To Help
- Limit your child's time with the pacifier and wean it off at an early age so that they will not be dependent on it.
- Go "cold turkey" and stick it out with your decision to wean your child off the pacifier.
- Speak to a certified Speech and Language Therapist (one registered with the Allied Health Professions Council) to find out more about the relationship between pacifiers and speech and language development. They should also be able to share ideas and strategies for weaning them off.