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Pacifiers Can Ease Parents' Minds, Too

They help ward off Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, studies find

SUNDAY, June 25, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Is there a simple, cheap and trusted intervention that can cut a baby's risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?

Yes, there is: The pacifier.

In fact, a recent study showed that pacifiers at sleep time reduced SIDS deaths by 61 percent. Those findings led the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recommend the use of pacifiers in their updated guidelines on preventing SIDS.

"The evidence has been very consistent," said study author Dr. Fern Hauck, an associate professor of family medicine and public health sciences at the University of Virginia Health System, in Charlottesville, Va.

Hauck and her colleagues reviewed reports on the subject and concluded that approximately one SIDS death could be prevented for every 2,733 babies who use a pacifier when they are put to bed.

Experts aren't sure why this simple step works -- mainly because they still don't know why seemingly healthy babies can die suddenly in their cribs from SIDS.

Theories abound, Hauck said. Viruses might play a role, she said, or some babies may be born with a predisposition for SIDS. Deaths may occur if babies are waking up but cannot get sufficient oxygen because they are lying face down, or if there is a blanket or other obstacle in their way. Rather than turn their heads, gasp or cry, these babies for some reason cannot inhale the air they need, she said.

That could be why the national "Back to Sleep" campaign -- which encourages caregivers to place babies on their backs for sleeping -- has been so successful in reducing the number of babies who die from SIDS each year. However, about 2,500 U.S. infants still succumb to SIDS annually, experts say.

So, how might pacifiers help prevent the condition?

According to Hauck, they may have a direct effect on opening the airway. Babies who suck on a pacifier may also sleep less deeply and arouse more easily than infants who don't use them -- seeking the device if and when it falls from the mouth. Other experts have theorized that the pacifier's bulky handle leaves a protective airspace around the baby's nose and mouth as it lies upon the mattress or pillow.

But pacifiers do have one drawback for breastfeeding moms.

Extended pacifier use can reduce a breastfeeding mom's milk production, noted Katy Lebbing, manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information of the La Leche League International, in Schaumburg, Ill. As babies suck, that stimulation produces breast milk for the next feeding, she explained.

"If we are putting baby to sleep with a pacifier instead of nursing, the mother's milk supply will go down and eventually end," she said.

So, when is the right time to introduce pacifiers? Both sides agree that, in the beginning at least, babies have a difficult time going from a nipple to a pacifier. Hauck points out that the AAP guidelines suggest not using a pacifier for the first month of a breastfeeding baby's life.

Other key AAP recomendations for preventing SIDS include:

  • Put infants to bed on their backs,
  • Only use firm sleep surfaces and keep soft objects, such as pillows and heavy blankets, out of the crib,
  • Give baby a smoke-free environment both before and after pregnancy,
  • Keep baby in the parents' bedroom, but not in bed with you,
  • Don't allow baby to get overheated. Infants shouldn't feel hot to the touch.

More information

The National Institutes of Health can tell you more about SIDS.

SOURCES: Katy Lebbing, manager, Center for Breastfeeding Information, La Leche League International, Schaumburg, Ill; Fern Hauck, M.D., associate professor, family medicine and public health sciences, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Va.
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