5 Ways in Which a Pacifier is Damaging to Your Child’s Development

Non-nutritive suckling is a natural instinct with infants. Non-nutritive suckling is suckling done for comfort and not necessarily to feed. During non-nutritive suckling, infants can either suckle on their mother’s breasts, on their tongues, fingers, thumbs or on a pacifier.

There are many documented benefits of non-nutritive suckling using a pacifier. They include:

1. Helping pre-term babies breathe well & to gain & retain weight during neo-natal intensive care

2. Preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

3. Soothing colicky babies

4. Offering an analgesic effect (relief from pain) when babies are in pain

While these benefits are alluring for parents, the long-term use of pacifiers might damage your child’s development. Listed below are 5 ways in which a pacifier can damage your child’s development. 

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1. Oral development

The mouth structure of an infant is different from that of an adult in that, unlike that of an adult, the mouth and throat areas of an infant have limited open space.

This structure is essential for feeding and swallowing. At birth, the palate of the infant is U shaped and flexible. The shape and the development of the palate are influenced significantly by the positioning of the tongue of the baby during rest and breastfeeding. When at rest, the tongue of the baby should be positioned against the roof of the mouth.

Prolonged use of a pacifier prevents this positioning and impedes the tongue from facilitating the development of the shape of the palate among other oral structures.

The sustained use of the pacifier after the age of three has been shown to predispose a child to:

1. The development of a crossbite (when the top back teeth bite down inside the bottom back teeth)

2. An anterior open bite, please visit this page to learn more

3. A narrow intercuspid width.  Click here to read more. 

The risk of developing these issues increases with prolonged use of a pacifier.

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2. Hearing

The use of pacifiers has been shown to have a damaging effect on the development of hearing by:

1. Damaging the eustachian tube and its functioning by changing the Eustachian tube patency (changing how much the eustachian tube is open)

2. Offsetting the balance between the middle ear and the nasopharynx

3. Increasing the risk of developing Otitis media. Please visit this post to read more on Otitis media. The risk of developing otitis media for children below one year is twice as much for children using pacifiers than for those not using pacifiers. And the risk of developing otitis media was five times for a child below one year who uses a pacifier, is bottle fed and attends daycare.

3. Dental Development

The sustained use of a pacifier can cause a child’s top front teeth of to slant outwards and the bottom front teeth to tilt inwards.

Further dental problems arise due to the misalignment of the upper and lower jaws. 

Other commonly cited problems that are partly attributed to the prolonged use of pacifiers include malocclusions, dental caries and gingivital recession.

The American Dental Association has also found that the sustained use of pacifiers to the ages of 3 to 5 years is associated with a smaller intercanine distance of the upper arch, a mean overjet, an anterior open bite and a posterior crossbite.

4. Speech development

The effects of prolonged use of pacifiers on speech development is indirectly associated with other development complications caused by the extended use of pacifiers.

Children who use pacifiers for a prolonged period of time usually end up experiencing articulation problems due to the distortion of their alveolar and fricative phonemes. Prolonged use of pacifiers also affects speech development through its effect on the positioning of the tongue and constant engagement of the oral cavity. 

Sucking on a pacifier partially obstructs the oral cavity of the child which limits a child’s imitation of sounds heard and babbling. The vocalizations of the child who is sucking on a pacifier is usually distorted. The pacifier may also stop the child from attempting to speak altogether

As mentioned previously, the sustained use of pacifiers increases the risk of a child developing Otitis media. Many of the children who develop Otitis media develop fluctuating hearing loss. With the first three years of a child’s life being critical for the development of language, any hearing loss on an infant affects their ability to acquire language skills. 

Otitis media leads to language development problems such as speech articulation, phonetic skills and reading problems. 

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5. Emotional development

Studies suggest that the prolonged use of pacifiers may have emotional consequences in boys.

Infants tend to communicate by mimicking the facial expressions of the people around them due to their inability to communicate verbally. The prolonged use of pacifiers robs infants of the opportunities to mimic different facial expressions.

Studies in neuroscience and psychology have shown that mimicking facial expressions influences the ability of the infants to understand the emotions conveyed by various facial expressions. So it may be plausible that pacifiers may lead to stunted emotional development in infants.

Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found an association between the duration for which boys use pacifiers and a reduction in the mimicry of facial expressions. They also found that the use of pacifiers was a predictor of emotional intelligence and lower perspective taking in young male adults.

These studies show that stunted emotional development caused by the use of pacifiers in infancy endure into early childhood and young adulthood. Young boys between six and seven years who used pacifiers for prolonged periods as children experienced more difficulties mimicking the emotional expressions of faces projecting from a video.

A similar trend was also shown among adolescents and young adults who posted lower results on emotional intelligence when compared to their college peers who did not use pacifiers as children.

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