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Do Pacifiers Lead to Addictive Behavior?

by Sharon Perkins

Don't feel guilty about using a pacifier to soothe your baby. Babies have a built-in urge to suck that sometimes can't be met by nursing or drinking a bottle. Pacifiers fulfill a need for sucking in young babies, but after around the first year, pacifiers are a habit and comfort mechanism with psychological rather than physical benefits. That doesn't mean they necessarily lead to addictive behavior, but they can cause health problems and might have other psychological effects.

Use

Between 75 percent to 85 percent of parents in Western countries use pacifiers, according to an April 2009 article in the "American Family Physician." Most children spontaneously give up their pacifiers by age 3 or 4, if they've been given unlimited access to it, or by 9 to 12 months if you've restricted its use to nap time and bedtime, according to the Children's Physician Network.

Psychological Effects

A Brazilian study published in the 2009 issue of "Jornal de Pediatria" found no connection in scientific literature between normal pacifier use and psychological problems later in life. However, a University of Wisconsin study published in the April 2012 issue of "Basic and Applied Social Psychology" found that use of pacifiers stunted emotional development in boys, but not girls. While stunted emotional growth doesn't necessarily lead to addictive behavior, the study did show that pacifier use could have long-term psychological effects in some cases.

Oral Fixation

Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, considered the founder of psychoanalysis, is the father of the theory of oral fixation. According to Freud, children and adults can develop an oral fixation that leads to addictive behavior such as smoking or nail biting when their need to suck in the first year of life is either undergratified or overgratified. Oral fixation later in life could lead to addictive oral behaviors such as smoking or nail biting.

Benefits and Risks

Pacifiers do have benefits for children under the age of 1 year. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of pacifiers for sleep up to this age because they might reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, preventing one out of 2,733 cases, according to an article published in the November 2005 issue of "Pediatrics." In older children, however, pacifiers can increase the risk of ear infections and might cause changes in the shape of your child's mouth and teeth, necessitating orthodontia.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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