One of the challenges we had as parents were expectations from friends and family for how to care for a baby; using a pacifier to soothe a fussy baby was one of those expectations. This article is the third and final post in the series where I discuss the good and the bad of choosing Montessori principles as parents. In this article, I discuss why we chose not to use a pacifier, the few times that we were so frustrated we tried one anyway, and whether I think it was a mistake now that my daughter is 2 ½!
Pacifiers are just that, a pacification device. If we think about this word, we will realize that “to pacify” just simply does not mean “to soothe”. Yes, they both might result in a calmer baby, but pacification in itself doesn’t mean the core problem was solved. When I combined this knowledge with the research regarding pacifiers and bottles, I knew I wanted to avoid them.
Pacifiers, like any artificial nipple, carry with it a slew of potential problems. The agitation on the inside of the mouth increases the chance of developing thrush.
The imbalance of pressure in the nasal passages increases the chance of respiratory and ear infections. Long-term and overuse can change the development of the palette and the growth of teeth and may result in braces later. Having something in the mouth can delay speech and cause speech impediments.
None of these results is a guarantee. There are plenty of healthy babies who used pacifiers. However, there is a statistically-based increased chance for each of them.
For our daughter, we wanted first to try to solve the immediate problem to calm her. If she was fussy, we would check if she was hungry. My daughter is always hungry, even now at 2 ½. This took a bit of commitment. When she was very young, if she was hungry and we were driving we would stop and I would nurse her. After a while, I will admit I got quite good at sitting next to her and nursing her while we drove. It’s quite a sight to see a mom contorting and stretching herself to reach a 4-month-old in a car seat…yes, it’s exactly as you are imaging right now.
If not hungry, perhaps a diaper, warmer/cooler clothes, or simple cuddling, rocking, or sleep was needed. For our daughter, this almost always solved the problem. There were times during rides that nothing worked, and since she had reflux, we were fairly sure the car seat belts pushed on her little tummy, and she was just uncomfortable. A problem that couldn’t be solved until we got out.
So, we gave in on our pacifier issue and attempted to give her one. We reasoned that perhaps the sucking would put a consistent amount of saliva down her esophagus and at least try to “pacify” the angry acid. It didn’t work. She promptly spit out the pacifier and continued to scream. We tried a few different ones, but they didn’t work either. Eventually, we just tried to take shorter and fewer trips until she grew out of the reflux.
The Montessori principle of not using a pacifier is related to allowing the child to learn to soothe themselves. Soothing can be with their fingers, a piece of clothing, or perhaps their thumb. Montessori reasoned that it was better to allow a child to struggle until they were able to solve the problem themselves than to rely on an external object.
This is a common theme in Montessori and I agree wholeheartedly. Children who can solve their own problems are simply more confident, self-reliant, happier people. Imagine if, as an adult, you constantly relied on other people to solve your problems for you.
It may sound silly that an infant learning to solve their self-soothing problem would lead to a self-reliant adult. The truth is that it is not a one-to-one correlation. As with all things, it is the accumulation of experiences such as self-soothing that will lead to a dependent or independent adult.
This is important. If you, as a parent, have chosen to use a pacifier—do not believe that you have ruined your child! They will not automatically be a needy, dependent, unhappy adult! This would be ridiculous. However, if your philosophy is that you will consistently try to solve your child’s problems throughout their young life…then yes, you may be heading in this unhappy direction.
So now that I’ve told you about my experience with my daughter and reviewed the (perhaps uncomfortable) Montessori principle, let me say this:
Some children simply need a pacifier.
This is just as true, and also just as important.
Some children need an external, oral object to help with their internal angst. My daughter, for example, has been pinching me while nursing since she was ten months old. She is still driving me crazy with it today. However, during nursing, if I give her a squishy object—and change that object regularly—it quells her need to squeeze, squish, poke, prod, and pinch things.
I may not have given her a pacifier, but I sure as heck gave her an external object to help this need. My daughter needed the squishy object. More importantly, since I was ready to throw her out of bed while she pinched me at 3 am, I needed to give it to her!
As with most things you’ll hear me say, every time you make parenting decisions:
No one should judge you.
The worst thing I endured while not using a pacifier was my friends and family. They couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t use one. I even got a “talking to” about how, and I quote, “Pacifiers are for soothing children. If you don’t use one, you are neglecting them.”
I’ll say it again…
Ok, so after calming down about that one, I’ll say that I don’t regret not using one. Not one little bit. My daughter didn’t need one. She was hungry; I fed her; she was happy again. She had reflux, I sat her up and didn’t put her in the car, she was happy again. Each and every time I addressed the core problem I was reassured that using a pacifier was simply not what my daughter needed.
And at the same time, it may be what your child needs. I have many friends who knew the results of overuse of pacifiers, intended on avoiding them and discovered their child simply needed one. They used one. Their child is perfectly fine and life is good ?
Since this concludes my last article in this series, I’ll end by saying that I hope I was able to share my experiences and opinion without infuriating anyone. I’ve written about my experience as a Montessori parent over the last 2 ½ years, the good the bad and the ugly. I made lots of mistakes, I learned from them and who knows if I’ll have a chance with a second baby to correct them.
What I know is that whatever type of parent you are, you love your child—or you wouldn’t be reading parenting articles! And your best decisions can only be made by you.