Nipple confusion? There may be no such thing

The Globe and Mail

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New parents have traditionally been told to keep soothers out of babies’ mouths for fear that it will make breastfeeding harder, but a new study suggests the opposite: Pacifiers may just make breastfeeding easier. Nipple confusion? There may be no such thing.

In 2010, Oregon Health & Science University established a policy in which nurses had to enter a code and a patients name in order to retrieve a pacifier, which until then were routinely given to newborn babies. Researchers then analyzed the data on more than 2,000 infants born between June, 2010, and August, 2011. They discovered that when the use of pacifiers was restricted, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding actually decreased from 79 per cent to 68 per cent. As well, the proportion of infants who were breastfeeding and receiving supplemental formula jumped from 18 per cent to 28 per cent when the new policy was instituted.

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“In the lore of our community and some of our medical literature, pacifiers are said to negatively impact breastfeeding. I think that’s not always the case,” study author Carrie Phillipi, an associate professor of pediatrics and medical director of the mother-baby unit at OHSU, told the Today show.

The benefits of breastfeeding have been well established by previous studies. Infants that breastfeed have fewer illnesses and reduced risk of certain cancers. As well, there are several documented health benefits to moms, including improved cardiovascular health.

Thanks to these benefits, several prominent organizations recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As well, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund encourage hospitals caring for newborns not to provide breastfeeding babies with artificial teats or pacifiers as part of their Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding statement.

With this new data, however, presented Monday at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting in Boston, such recommendations may need to be revised.

“Taken together, the 10 steps improve exclusive breastfeeding rates in the hospital. However, the effect of pacifier use on initiation and duration of exclusive breastfeeding has not been well established in the medical literature,” Laura Kair, a pediatric resident at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, said in a release.

The researchers added that their goal in releasing the 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.”

There may not be nipple confusion, but that’s not to say many parents won’t now be left scratching their heads.

Does this new study change your views on giving pacifiers to infants?