Pacifier Pic EditedBabies emerge from the womb with a hard-core addiction: they love sucking. They want to suck all the time, night and day, around the clock. That’s because sucking releases cholecystokinin (CCK), a feel-good hormone that soothes and relaxes the baby. Babies can’t get enough, so they suck and suck in the hopes of mainlining as much CCK as possible.

There are two ways to satisfy your baby’s CCK addiction. The first and most natural one is through breastfeeding, which releases relaxing hormones in both baby and mommy. Ever noticed how a baby looks drunk right after a good feeding? That’s the CCK at work; it helps the baby feel more full, and a full-feeling baby is more likely to sleep.

Pacifiers and other artificial nipples also give babies their much-needed CCK fix. We’ve all seen a baby drift off to never-never land sucking on a pacifier, and it’s because of that wonderful CCK. But is it a good idea to introduce a pacifier? The decision is a very personal one.

While studies show that pacifiers can reduce the rate of SIDS (which is why the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends them), lactation consultants aren’t generally pro-pacifier. There are many reasons for this, though I think the common cry of “nipple confusion” doesn’t give babies enough credit. Babies are smart enough to know the good stuff from a piece of rubber! Pacifiers can also interfere with weight gain and growth, since it’s the sucking, and not the swallowing, that gives babies a feeling of satiety. A baby who is sucking a pacifier all the time might forget to eat every two hours like she’s supposed to.

Other objections are even more serious. Like bottles, pacifiers can structurally change the shape of the baby’s mouth, which can contribute to later speech issues. Breastfed babies, on the other hand, tend to have fewer speech problems because of how their tongues lap upward to release the breastmilk, an action that helps their mouths to develop optimally. That’s right: it isn’t just breastmilk, but the physical act of breastfeeding that will benefit your child long-term!

Pacifiers can interfere with the proper development of a baby’s tongue and lip muscles, which is why lisps are more common among pacifier-users. And because the ears, nose, and throat are all structurally related, pacifier-shunning babies are also less prone to ear infections—with 33 percent fewer middle ear infections, according to one study.

There is one big exception to my cautions against the pacifier, which is for babies in the NICU. When mother and baby are separated—and in many cases, when the baby is getting milk not from the breast but from a syringe, feeding tube or other device—the baby just can’t get his CCK fix directly from the breast, and in the high-stress environment of the NICU, a baby needs that CCK release more than ever. In these circumstances, a binkie is a great tool for getting baby the CCK fix she needs to relax.

Of course, most kids turn out fine with or without the pacifier. For me, it all comes back to nature. Babies were designed to breastfeed, not to suck on artificial nipples all day.

That said, there’s the ideal and there’s the reality. Breastfeeding moms often feel like human pacifiers, so no wonder they want some relief! But if your baby takes to the pacifier, you may find that the peace it brings is short-lived. Many babies depend on their binky for sleep long before they’ve figured out how to put a stray pacifier back into their mouths. This dependency can lead to the nightmare scenario of the baby waking up every 15 minutes shrieking for her paci—thanks, but no thanks. While sucking is a completely natural soothing mechanism, children must at some point learn to fall asleep on their own.

So if you do give your child a pacifier, try to limit her use of it before it becomes an addiction. Ybreast recommends getting rid of the pacifier as soon as possible, before babies notice its absence. In the meantime, let your baby get her CCK fix the natural way: by sucking on your breast day and night. She can’t feed too often, so enjoy her as she soaks up all that wonderful CCK. Those days of around-the-clock breastfeeding will end before you know it, and I promise that you, too, will miss the feel-good sensations breastfeeding brings.