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Pacifiers may reduce babies' risk of SIDS


May 10, 1999
Web posted at: 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Rhonda Rowland

(CNN) -- Pacifiers, often discouraged for babies, may substantially reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, mounting research suggests.

Researchers evaluated seven studies that included a total of 800 infants.

"It's not really clear that pacifier use prevents SIDS; it is clear that babies that use pacifiers as a group have a lower risk of SIDS," said Dr. John Brooks of Dartmouth Medical School Children's Hospital.

SIDS is the leading cause of death among infants between 1 month and 1 year of age. It is a disorder in which an infant death remains unexplained after all known causes have been ruled out. It usually occurs during sleep.

Doctors are not sure how, or why, pacifiers might lower the risk of SIDS.

"It may keep the airway open, it may make them less likely to lay face down in bed, it may strengthen the muscles of the upper airway," Brooks said.

It has also been suggested that sucking may enhance brain development.

Still, pediatricians and the SIDS Alliance are not ready to recommend routine pacifier use for all babies. Pacifiers increase the incidence of ear infections, they may cause dental problems, and they can reduce the duration of breast-feeding.

"I think the thing I'm ready to change is to back off a bit on discouraging pacifiers, and I think the public should know about this association," Brooks said.

It could take years for researchers to prove that pacifiers can help prevent SIDS. But there is a basic precaution all parents can take.

"Researchers do know for sure it's possible to reduce the risk of SIDS by placing babies to sleep on their backs, rather than sides or stomachs," Brooks said. "It's advised parents tell anyone caring for their child to follow this precaution."

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The Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Alliance
American SIDS Institute
SIDS Network
Dartmouth Medical School
ParentTime: Your Amazing Newborn: Picking a Plug
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