Binky Bad for Boys?

Dear Mamas,

I am the proud mom of a 2½-year-old son and a 5-month-old (soon to be adopted) foster baby. Recently, I read an article that was super concerning about pacifier use in baby boys. The gist was that baby boys (but not girls) who suck on a paci might have stunted emotional development because the piece of plastic in their mouths prevents them from mimicking the facial expressions of the adults around them. Say what??

This sounds crazy to me. In fact, by the time I finished reading I was animatedly talking back to the computer screen. Both my boys are paci lovers (we gradually weaned our oldest off when the baby joined us by explaining that he didn’t need them any more because he’s the big brother), and I feel like the additional sucking provides much needed comfort and soothing.

Our big guy is extremely expressive, and I certainly don’t think his emotional development has been affected. What’s your take on this research? Should I be worried? Consider taking the binky away from our little guy? I need a reality check.



Dear Karin,

Do not fret! Your Mamas, old-school sucker supporters, are on your side. As you note, many babies are soothed and comforted by non-nutritive sucking; that’s a good thing.

The article you mention is based on a study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology. Researchers measured emotional reactions and development in young children (aged 6-7) and college students. Boys (not girls) in the younger group were measured based on their reactions to various facial expressions. Those who had used pacifiers more heavily were found to be less likely to mimic emotional expressions. Emotional intelligence tests applied to college students also showed that heavier pacifier use went hand-in-hand with lower scores. Since the study measured response to signals sent by adults during waking hours, putting a baby down at night with a binky was not thought to make a difference.

While some parents have other concerns about binkys, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Pacifiers do not cause any medical or psychological problems,” and recommends offering a pacifier at naptime or bedtime until age 1. The Mayo Clinic also says that pacifiers can be “the key to contentment between feedings.”

Some parents are concerned about getting rid of the paci when the time comes (we’ve all seen the occasional preschooler plugged up in the supermarket), but most kids stop using pacifiers on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. For others who need a little help breaking the habit, there are lots of effective strategies, like the one you used with your big guy.

This study has lots of obvious flaws, beginning with the fact that the determination of past pacifier use is based on memory (presumably mom’s, not kiddo’s). How many mothers have accurate recall about their 6 or 7 year old’s pacifier use, not to mention their college student’s? And that’s just for starters.

Bottom line, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Mayo Clinic and the Mamas agree with you on this one. Trust your mommy gut and let little one suck away. And, BTW, kudos to you for providing such a loving forever family to a baby who needs one. We honor you.

~ The Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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