Pacifiers May Help Babies With Acid Reflux
June 19, 2000 -- Long the bane of children's dentists, pacifiers could earn
some new respect among pediatricians, if a study presented at a recent meeting
of specialists in Boston can be verified. It found that babies who sucked on
pacifiers had fewer and shorter episodes of gastroesophageal or "acid"
reflux, a painful condition in which stomach acid creeps into the throat.
The pacifiers apparently work the same way lozenges and chewing gum do in
adults: by stimulating the flow of saliva and downward contractions of the
esophagus. Together, these actions help to more quickly move the highly
irritating stomach fluid back where it belongs.
But the study's lead researcher says this is not a call to push more
pacifiers into the mouths of babes. "We are not advocating use of a
pacifier as a treatment option for reflux," says Shahid Sheikh, MD, a
pediatric pulmonologist at the Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio.
"Pacifiers do have a lot of problems. This is an observation, and I think
many more studies have to be done. We don't want parents to start using
pacifiers because we do know their use can have long and short-term
Among the criticisms of pacifiers are that they can cause teeth misalignment
and problems with breastfeeding. Still, Sheikh's study presents some compelling
evidence that pacifiers, or some similar device, could find a medical use.
Consider this finding from the study: Among the infants who tested positive
for reflux, there were three times as many babies who didn't use pacifiers as
those who did. And, Sheikh says, when infants who used pacifiers did test
positive, their reflux conditions tended to be less severe. So convinced is
Sheikh of a relationship that he says infants who are about to undergo testing
for reflux should not be allowed to use a pacifier, or the results might get
And it is important to make a proper diagnosis of reflux, because it can
lead to other problems, particularly asthma. "There are a number of studies
which show 20-30% of asthmatics have [reflux]," Sheikh says. He also raises
the possibility that in infants, stomach acid in the throat could lead to
life-threatening apneas, brief episodes in which breathing stops.
But that has not been proven conclusively, says Judith Sondheimer, MD, head
of pediatric gastroenterology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences
Center. What is known is that reflux in children is common, and it
doesn't always require treatment. In many cases, she says, the symptoms
disappear as a child grows older.
"Gastroesophageal reflux, as characterized by recurrent spitting and
vomiting, occurs in about four out of 10 healthy children," says
Sondheimer, who was not involved in the study.
- Gastroesophageal reflux, characterized by recurrent spitting and vomiting,
is common in infants and children, but doesn't always require treatment.
- A new study shows that infants who suck on pacifiers have fewer and shorter
episodes of reflux, although researchers don't go so far as to encourage the
use of pacifiers.
- Pacifiers stimulate the flow of saliva and downward contractions of the
esophagus, reducing the time it takes to move the irritating stomach fluid back
where it belongs.