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Soothing News About Pacifiers

My 13-month-old daughter, Amelia, falls asleep with one Binky in her mouth and others sprinkled around her like rose petals, so when she wakes, she can always find one. While I cherish the role they play in giving her (and me) more sleep, I limit their out-of-crib use, in part because I worry that others will look at her and wonder, What can a silicone plug provide a child that a resourceful, attentive parent can't?

Turns out, quite a bit. "Young babies are hardwired to suck, and not just for feeding," says Alan Greene, M.D., a pediatrician at Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California, and author of From First Kicks to First Steps. "Emotionally, they take comfort and delight in sucking."

The role of pacifiers remains controversial: Some studies have shown that sucking is not only comforting to a baby, but can even help ease pain, while critics worry that their early use may compromise the success of breastfeeding. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal, however, may start to put those fears to rest: Researchers at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide, South Australia, found that pacifiers had no effect on breastfeeding success for premature babies. Here are some tips for healthy Binky use.

* Wait until nursing or bottle-feeding is well-established  -- usually about two weeks  -- before introducing a Binky. "In my practice, I haven't seen pacifiers interfere with nursing, but it can't hurt to wait," says Dr. Greene.

* Don't substitute a Binky for food, and be sure your baby learns other ways to be comforted, like cuddling with you or hugging a special toy.

* If you want to wean, phase the pacifier out slowly. For example, first limit its use to the crib and car, then just the crib, then just to bedtime. Consider exchanging it for another transitional object like a blanket or stuffed toy. (Due to SIDS risk, however, these items should never be placed in the crib.) Another tactic: Dip the Binky in pickle juice to give it an unappealing taste.

Good times to wean include the 6-to-9-month phase, when babies explore the world with their mouths or when they're being weaned from the bottle or breast. Avoid making a change during a transition, such as when you've just gone back to work. Many babies will wean when they're ready, says Dr. Greene, and "battles to give it up will only reinforce the habit."