Study: Pacifiers May Encourage Breastfeeding in Newborns

PHOTO: A mother holding her sleeping son with a pacifier.Getty Images
A mother holding her sleeping son with a pacifier.

For years, pediatrician and physician organizations have advised against regular use of pacifiers for newborns.

Using a pacifier may keep babies from exclusively breastfeeding, they advised.

But a new study found that newborns in one hospital that were restricted from having pacifiers were less likely to exclusively breastfeed and instead turn to formula. The findings were presented Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Boston.

Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University looked at feeding data of over 2,000 infants born at the university's hospital between June 2010 and August 2011. After a new hospital policy restricting pacifiers was implemented in December 2010, exclusive breastfeeding dropped from 79 percent to 68 percent, the researchers found.

Previous studies suggest that increased pacifier use may cause infants to wean off breastfeeding earlier. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding pacifiers until at least 1 month old so the infant is comfortable breastfeeding. Even the World Health Organization advises against pacifiers, saying that they can interfere with breastfeeding.

To encourage exclusive breastfeeding, the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund recommend that hospitals stop providing formula and pacifiers. Hospitals that follow recommendations by the program are known as Baby-Friendly Hospitals.

"There is a great deal of energy nationally as well as internationally in support of increasing the number of Baby-Friendly Hospitals," Dr. Laura Kair, the study investigator and a pediatric resident at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital, said in a statement. "However, the effect of pacifier use on initiation and duration of exclusive breastfeeding has not been well-established in the medical literature."

But the study, which was not peer-reviewed or published, left many questions unanswered. It is not clear whether there were other reasons besides decreased pacifier use that may have contributed to the decreased breastfeeding rates. Additional and larger studies are needed to find confirm whether these findings apply to more newborns in other baby-friendly hospitals, Kair said.

"Our goal with publicizing this data is to stimulate conversation and scientific inquiry about whether there is sufficient evidence to support the universal recommendation of not offering pacifiers to breastfeeding infants in the first few days to weeks of life," said Kair.