When is the use of pacifiers justifiable in the baby-friendly hospital initiative context? A clinician's guide

Welma Lubbe, Wilma Ten Ham-Baloyi
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2017 April 27, 17 (1): 130

BACKGROUND: The use of pacifiers is an ancient practice, but often becomes a point of debate when parents and professionals aim to protect and promote breastfeeding as most appropriately for nurturing infants. We discuss the current literature available on pacifier use to enable critical decision-making regarding justifiable use of pacifiers, especially in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative context, and we provide practical guidelines for clinicians.

DISCUSSION: Suck-swallow-breathe coordination is an important skill that every newborn must acquire for feeding success. In most cases the development and maintenance of the sucking reflex is not a problem, but sometimes the skill may be compromised due to factors such as mother-infant separation or medical conditions. In such situations the use of pacifiers can be considered therapeutic and even provide medical benefits to infants, including reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. The argument opposing pacifier use, however, is based on potential risks such as nipple confusion and early cessation of breastfeeding. The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding as embedded in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative initially prohibited the use of pacifiers in a breastfeeding friendly environment to prevent potential associated risks. This article provides a summary of the evidence on the benefits of non-nutritive sucking, risks associated with pacifier use, an identification of the implications regarded as 'justifiable' in the clinical use of pacifiers and a comprehensive discussion to support the recommendations for safe pacifier use in healthy, full-term, and ill and preterm infants. The use of pacifiers is justifiable in certain situations and will support breastfeeding rather than interfere with it. Justifiable conditions have been identified as: low-birth weight and premature infants; infants at risk for hypoglyceamia; infants in need of oral stimulation to develop, maintain and mature the sucking reflex in preterm infants; and the achievement of neurobehavioural organisation. Medical benefits associated with the use of pacifiers include providing comfort, contributing towards neurobehavioural organisation, and reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Guidelines are presented for assessing and guiding safe pacifier use, for specific design to ensure safety, and for cessation of use to ensure normal childhood development.

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