Sunday, December 8, 2013

WHY Pacifiers (Seem to) Work

For parents handling newborns under a couple months, we all know how helpless and nervous it makes us when our babies cry, weep, sniffle, and cry non-stop. And as you get to increasingly understand and decode your baby's expressions, we feel better in control. However, even then, there are times when you know you cannot do anything but wait or endure - ie. driving with the baby in the car seat, giving the baby a bath, etc. To mute a crying baby, we invented the all-mighty pacifier.  


When I first used pacifiers on my son, it almost seemed like black magic. It was from on-to-off. Loud-to-silent. I finally was able to understand how the name "pacifier" was approved above a "sucker" or "faux nipple". And because of this, it is very enticing to give the pacifier to the baby all the time. But before making the decision, it is important to understand WHY pacifiers work. Well at least for a while. 

The brain of a baby has unlimited potential (as the unused connections still haven't been shut down) which in turn means they cannot record memory and process complex thoughts. This is why babies often rapidly forget why they were crying or what was hurting them. Even so, evolution has given humans the animal instinct to suck to receive food and water and this can be verified by a baby sucking on its mother's nipples minutes after birth. As eating is directly related to survival for babies, ingesting food, everything else doesn't matter including crying.

From this, we can then see why pacifiers work. Babies are pacified because the pacifier makes their brains think that food is being ingested. It does not solve the cause. It just makes the brain temporarily triage the problem as low priority. 

Knowing this, it is then easy to know how to safely use this magical instrument. Although the baby's brain thinks that it is eating, it actually isn't. So as parents, we have to ensure that the baby is getting enough to eat, even if it may not be expressing hunger (due to the pacifier). This means checking for dehydration (6+ wet diapers a day) and monitoring weight gains (1 oz a day). Also, its more than just food. We have to cognizant of other reasons for the baby crying and make sure those problems are resolved. 


Even with this understanding of pacifiers, I am increasingly feeling that pacifiers may only seem to work. 2 weeks into this world, my son is now outwitting the pacifier. He sucks on it for a few seconds, then immediately spits it out. And the time to rejecting the sucker keeps getting shorter. I'm not sure if its because of he's memorized the shape or the temperature, or because he knows that nothing comes out of it. I'm planning on experimenting with other pacifiers including my finger to outwit him. I'll record the results on another post.