Do pacifiers help with digestion?

Seeing your little one suffering from gas, constipation, or reflux has you desperate for relief. In your quest to help ease your baby’s digestive woes, you come across claims that pacifiers can actually help with digestion. Too good to be true?

Let’s objectively analyze whether non-nutritive sucking from pacifiers has any benefits when babies are battling tummy troubles.

Do pacifiers help with digestion

How Could Pacifiers Help with Digestion?

First, how logically could sucking on a pacifier assist with digestion? There are a few plausible mechanisms:

1. Stimulation of Muscle Contractions

The simple act of sucking on a pacifier involves rhythmic movements of the mouth and tongue. These motions can extend beyond the oral cavity and stimulate muscle contractions in the digestive tract. This stimulation might help move food through the gastrointestinal system more efficiently.

Babies often swallow air during feeds, and the gentle suction of a pacifier could aid in pushing air bubbles through the digestive tract, reducing the likelihood of gas buildup.

2. Hormonal Responses

Sucking on a pacifier can trigger the release of certain hormones that play a role in digestion. Two key hormones are epinephrine and motilin. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, can increase heart rate and blood flow to the digestive organs, potentially enhancing their function. Motilin, on the other hand, helps regulate the rhythmic contractions of the digestive tract, which is essential for moving food and waste through the system.

The sucking motion associated with pacifier use could stimulate the release of these hormones, promoting digestion and regular bowel movements.

3. Soothing and Reduced Fussiness

Digestive discomfort, such as reflux or gas, can cause babies to become fussy and irritable. Pacifiers offer a soothing mechanism that can help calm a baby and alleviate some of this discomfort.

When a baby is soothed, they may be less likely to cry, which can reduce the swallowing of air associated with fussing. This, in turn, may lead to less gas being trapped in the digestive system.

4. Sucrose Solutions

Some pacifiers are designed to be dipped in solutions like sucrose (sugar water). This practice is sometimes used during medical procedures to provide pain relief and comfort to infants. While the primary purpose is pain management, it’s possible that the sweet solution could also offer temporary relief from stomach discomfort.

However, it’s crucial to note that the use of sucrose solutions should only be done under the guidance of healthcare professionals.

Research on the Effects of Pacifiers on Digestion:

Several studies have investigated the potential benefits of pacifiers on infant digestion:

  • A study published in the “Journal of Pediatrics” found that non-nutritive sucking (such as using a pacifier) was associated with a shorter duration of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) episodes in infants. This suggests that pacifier use might help reduce the frequency and severity of reflux.
  • Research published in the “Journal of Perinatology” showed that non-nutritive sucking improved gastric emptying in preterm infants. It accelerated the passage of milk through the stomach, potentially reducing feeding-related issues.
  • Another study in the “Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine” found that pacifier use was linked to a lower incidence of colic in breastfed infants. Colic is often associated with digestive discomfort and excessive crying.

While these studies provide insights into the potential benefits of pacifiers for digestion, it’s essential to remember that individual responses can vary. Parents should always consult with healthcare professionals regarding the use of pacifiers for specific digestive concerns in their infants. Additionally, pacifiers should be used judiciously and in accordance with age-appropriate guidelines.


Can Pacifiers be helpful for Reflux and GERD?

Reflux, where stomach contents back up into the esophagus, is extremely common in babies. When severe, it’s classified as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Can pacifiers improve reflux?

Some studies have found a link between pacifier use and decreased GERD symptoms. However, more research suggests pacifiers make no significant difference in reflux severity in infants.

Experts hypothesize pacifiers may only temporarily mask signs of reflux without treating the cause. More studies are needed, but the consensus is pacifiers do not substantially remedy reflux or GERD.

Are Pacifiers helpful for Gas and Colic?

Excessive crying, gas pains, and colic are distressing for infants. Unfortunately, research indicates pacifier use does not decrease the incidence of gas, colic episodes, or crying duration compared to babies without pacifiers. Non-nutritive sucking does not appear to provide significant relief for these common digestive troubles.

Can Pacifiers be used as Laxatives?

Anecdotal reports indicate sucking motions may stimulate bowel movements. However, studies have not found strong evidence that pacifiers help treat constipation or directly increase stool frequency. They do induce gastrointestinal hormone secretion, so more research is warranted on potential laxative effects. 

Final Thoughts

While it’s reasonable to think pacifiers may aid digestion through soothing, hormone shifts, and gut motility stimulation – scientific evidence does not currently support significant benefits. Pacifiers are unlikely to resolve the root causes of reflux, gas, colic, or constipation.

That said, if parents feel it gives some comfort or relief, pacifiers are still encouraged for other reasons like reducing SIDS risk. As always, discuss any feeding or digestive issues with your pediatrician and use pacifiers judiciously.

Though more research is needed, don’t rely on pacifiers alone to cure your baby’s tummy woes. Focus on underlying causes and treatments. But take heart that a beloved pacifier is unlikely to aggravate digestive problems significantly.


  • Editorial team

    A team comprising oral health care professionals, researchers, and professional Writers, striving to impart you with the knowledge to improve your oral health, and that of your loved ones. 

  • Lilly

    Lilly, aka, Liza Lee, is a passionate community oral health officer and our lead writer. She's not only well-versed in performing a multitude of dental procedures, including preventive, restorative, and cosmetic, but also an avid writer. Driven by the significant oral health burden all around her, Lilly strives to build capacity and promote oral health. She envisions making a lasting impact by advancing research, prevention, and promotion efforts to alleviate oral health disparities. Please share your views and opinions on my posts.

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