Pacifiers and colic

That dreaded witching hour strikes and your baby erupts into intense cries and screams. You’ve tried every technique to calm their colic with no luck. Out of desperation, you offer a pacifier – will this help ease their discomfort?

As a parent, you want to soothe your little one’s tummy troubles and relieve their distress. Using pacifiers may seem like an easy fix, but do they actually help treat colic? Or are you just temporarily masking the outward symptoms?

While pacifiers offer no cure, they may provide small comfort increments, if you get the right one for your little one. Still, you should discuss colic concerns with your pediatrician to rule out underlying issues and establish effective soothing strategies.

Though pacifiers won’t eliminate colic, when combined with other therapies, they can get you through the night.

Pacifiers and colic

What is Colic?

First, colic refers to bouts of frequent, prolonged crying in otherwise healthy infants under 3 months old. It typically peaks around 6 weeks of age. The causes are not entirely clear, but suspected factors include gastrointestinal discomfort like reflux, gas, food sensitivities, and immature gut microbiomes.

When dealing with an inconsolable, obviously uncomfortable baby, parents reach for any relief – including pacifiers. But according to research, pacifiers only briefly pause colic crying, without addressing the root causes. They do not substantially reduce crying duration or frequency.

But the good news is colic resolves on its own as the child grows. Perhaps a pacifier and other remedies could help you through this phase.

Pacifier Effects on Colic

When dealing with inconsolable crying and obvious pain, parents understandably reach for anything that might help – including pacifiers. But do they actually relieve colic symptoms?

Here’s what the science says:

Temporary Soothing vs. Treating Colic:

It’s important to understand that pacifiers primarily serve as a soothing tool for babies by satisfying their natural sucking reflex. They provide comfort and can temporarily alleviate fussiness. However, pacifiers do not address or treat the underlying causes of colic itself.

Limited Impact on Total Crying Duration:

While pacifiers can provide small, incremental soothing effects, studies show that they generally do not significantly reduce the total duration of crying in colicky babies. Colic is a complex condition with various potential causes, and pacifiers are just one tool among many that can provide comfort.

Individual Preference and Gag Reflex:

Not all babies will readily accept pacifiers during colicky episodes. Some infants may exhibit a strong gag reflex, making it challenging for them to use a pacifier. Others may prefer to suck their thumb or fingers for comfort. Parents should be attentive to their baby’s cues and preferences.

Potential Impact on Gas:

There is a theoretical concern that pacifiers could introduce extra air into a baby’s stomach, potentially worsening gas discomfort. However, it’s important to note that scientific evidence on this matter is limited and inconclusive. While some babies may swallow small amounts of air while using a pacifier, it’s unclear whether this has a significant impact on gas-related symptoms.

Individual Variability:

It’s important to recognize that each baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Some colicky babies may find relief and comfort from pacifiers, while others may not respond as favorably. Parents should approach pacifier use with an open mind, understanding that its effectiveness can vary from one infant to another.

Tips for Using Pacifiers with Colic

Overall, pacifiers do not appear to substantially reduce colic episodes by treating the source. They may briefly pause crying which can help parents cope. But effects are small and often temporary until the colic bout resumes.

While pacifiers are not a cure or major treatment for colic, if you choose to use them, here are some best practices:

  • Offer the pacifier strategically for short-term calming, like during intense crying or to extend naps. Avoid habitually leaving it in all day.
  • Time pacifier use carefully around feedings so it does not interfere with appetite, intake, or reflux.
  • Clean and sterilize pacifiers frequently as colicky babies often spit up more while sucking.
  • Use orthodontic or angled pacifiers if baby is 1-6 months old to support dental development.
  • Try different pacifier shapes, sizes, and materials to find one baby accepts.
  • Ensure it is sized appropriately so it doesn’t obstruct airways if spit up occurs.
  • Wean pacifier use around 6-12 months as colic improves and prolonged sucking becomes less desirable.

Holistic Colic Management

When dealing with colic, it’s advisable for parents to adopt a holistic approach to management. This may include:

1. Consult with a Pediatrician:

If you suspect your baby has colic, it’s crucial to consult with a pediatrician. Colic is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning it’s essential to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing discomfort. Your pediatrician can perform a thorough examination to ensure there are no physical issues contributing to your baby’s symptoms.

2. Feeding Evaluation:

Ensure that your baby is feeding properly and is not experiencing any feeding issues that could contribute to colic. Discuss feeding techniques and positions with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant to minimize the ingestion of air during feeding.

3. Adjust Feeding Habits:

If you are breastfeeding, consider modifying your diet to exclude potential gas-inducing foods like caffeine, dairy, or cruciferous vegetables. If you are formula-feeding, consult with your pediatrician about trying different types of formula that may be easier for your baby to digest.

4. Gentle Handling and Soothing:

Hold and soothe your baby in a gentle and calming manner. Rocking, swaddling, or using a baby swing can provide comfort. Create a soothing bedtime routine to help your baby relax before sleep.

5. White Noise and Sound Machines:

Many babies find comfort in white noise or sounds that mimic the womb environment. Consider using a white noise machine or playing soft, rhythmic sounds to help your baby relax.

6. Massage and Tummy Time:

Gentle baby massage can help relieve gas and promote relaxation. Ensure you use appropriate baby-safe oils or lotions. Tummy time when your baby is awake can also help with digestion and alleviate gas.

7. Colic-Friendly Pacifiers:

Some babies find comfort in using pacifiers. Use them sparingly and be attentive to your baby’s preferences. Choose pacifiers designed to minimize the intake of air, as this can help reduce gas-related discomfort.

8. Stress Reduction for Parents:

Dealing with a colicky baby can be emotionally challenging. It’s important for parents to manage their stress and seek support from friends, family, or support groups. Consider taking breaks when needed and sharing caregiving responsibilities with a partner or support network.

9. Follow a Consistent Schedule:

Establish a routine for feeding, sleeping, and playtime to provide your baby with a sense of predictability and security.

10. Consult with a Lactation Consultant or Infant Specialist:

If breastfeeding is a challenge, consider consulting with a lactation consultant or an infant specialist who can provide guidance and support.

Final Note

Remember that colic is a temporary condition, and most babies outgrow it by the time they reach three to four months of age. In the meantime, practicing patience, seeking support, and employing these management strategies can help both you and your baby navigate this challenging phase more comfortably.

While pacifiers can provide temporary comfort and soothing for colicky babies, they are not a definitive solution for colic itself. With some thoughtful precautions, they can provide small comforting increments and brief respite for exhausted, frustrated parents during difficult colic spells.

Just be realistic about their limitations in treating colic’s cause. View pacifiers as helpers rather than solutions, and couple them with other soothing strategies.

The management of colic should be comprehensive, addressing the baby’s individual needs and considering various soothing techniques and strategies. Parents should always consult with a healthcare provider for guidance on colic management.

Authors

  • 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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