How Normal Are Pacifiers?

1148067_pacifier“He’s using you as a pacifier!”

I thought I was the only one who regularly heard this when someone noticed that I breastfed my babies to sleep, until I read it in a list among the annoying things breastfeeding women commonly hear in La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

When did a pacifier—a piece of plastic—become more normal than a woman’s own breast in raising children?

We, in Western society, have gotten off track. Somewhere between formula companies seizing the infant-feeding advice after World War II and women finally being allowed to vote and women enjoying the newfound freedoms that they can contribute as much as men can in the workforce, women began to lose the age-old wisdom of raising children. Despite the fact that we are biologically designed to comfort-nurse a child to sleep or as a way to cope with discomfort, what comes to mind as normal is a child sucking on a pacifier or his thumb or stroking a stuffed animal, blanket, or another lovey object.

That’s not normal.

Well, I guess it depends on your definition of normal. When it comes down to caring for our babies, we can consider whether we define normal as what is biologically normal or we define normal as what is societally common.

If what is normal is what is common in our society, then you probably don’t see what the big deal is with Cesarean sections or formula-feeding or infant sleep-training or spanking and ignoring our children as way to discipline. You’re probably not doing the research into these childrearing techniques, either, because if you did, you’d have to admit that to knowingly choose these societally common parenting strategies—without special circumstances or no other choice—is to knowingly choose parenting practices that are not in the best interest of your child, or yourself.

Breastfeeding is the biological norm. Breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for your baby. Breastfeeding is far superior to formula, which is artificial breast milk or human milk replacer. Formula is not breast milk. It’s not even close. If your dog or cat was to have babies, and one of those babies needed to be fed formula for some reason, that puppy or kitten would not be nearly as healthy or growing as well as his litter mates. It’s just a fact. Formula does not have everything a baby needs. Breast milk does.

In the same respect, breastfeeding is about more than feeding your baby. A baby is biologically designed to breastfeed, not bottle-feed breast milk. The reason isn’t sheer convenience and inexpensiveness. The reason is because babies biologically need Mom’s presence to develop normally.

Babies need pacifiers when they are not getting their biological sucking needs from breastfeeding on demand. Babies don’t need to comfort-nurse because there are no pacifiers. When we think of which came first—breastfeeding or the pacifier—most definitely, breastfeeding came first. Pacifiers cannot substitute for moms adequately. They do not look like her, feel like her, smell like her, love like her. There are no hormonal exchanges between pacifiers and babies, like there are between mothers and babies. These hormonal exchanges are biologically normal and biologically designed to develop a close bond between Mom and Baby, and to begin normal development in Baby. A pacifier can’t do that, so how normal does that make it?

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Rita Brhel
Rita Brhel is a stay-at-home mother to three children. She is also a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, the Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International, the managing editor of the Attached Family magazine, an API Support Group Leader, PSI Postpartum Support Coordinator, Sidelines High-Risk Pregnancy Peer Counselor.
Rita Brhel

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2 thoughts on “How Normal Are Pacifiers?

  1. Please remember, there are some of us out there who are physically incapable of breast feeding. Strongly worded articles such as this just cause greater feelings of guilt and inadequacy over a situation whereby a child would starve if not for formula. We should actually be very grateful that it exists, and perhaps you should show more sensitivity and understanding!

    1. Jane, I’m sorry if you feel the article in insensitive. Nowhere does it condemn women who have no choice but to use formula. It only seeks to build the case that comfort nursing is biologically normal, while pacifiers and formula are stand-ins. They are great inventions of the modern world, that keep babies alive no doubt (although, let us not forget the options of wet nursing and breastmilk donation), but are still artificial. Imagine speaking to a nutritionist who told you that you could get ALL of the nutrition you would ever need from nutritional supplements. You may be able to sustain yourself, but you wouldn’t thrive. And, I commend Rita for supporting the thriving – not merely the surviving – of infants.

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