Kill binky? Children’s prolonged sucking may trigger speech problems

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Pity the parents who must grapple with whether or not to pull the plug on a child’s self-soothing device, be it binky or fingers. If you’re weighing the pros and cons, consider this: a new observational study suggests that children who cling to their sucking habit now, may risk a speech impediment later. For the study, published today in the online medical journal BMC Pediatrics, graduate students at the University of Washington, Seattle, worked with 128 preschoolers in Patagonia, Chile. They gave each child a speech test, then interviewed the parents to gather information about the child’s “sucking history” (ie: did they use a pacifier, were they breastfed, etc..). What shook out is that children who sucked on their fingers or a pacifier for more than 3 years were 3 times more likely to have a speech impediment than their less-orally-fixated peers. Additionally, fewer speech problems were reported in children who breast fed exclusively for their first 9 months.Although not definitive, these results do map onto other research suggesting that prolonged sucking on something besides a breast can alter the mouth’s physical development. “The science behind it makes sense,”  says Annette Fitzpatrick, PhD, one of the study coordinators. She explains that from a musculature standpoint, “it’s a lot more work to get milk out of a breast than out of a bottle” and muscle development impacts speech. That said, she notes that the South American tots are heavy users of bottles and pacifiers, probably more so than the average American child, so parents need not necessarily kill binky or fear the bottle. “I’m not telling parents they can’t give their children bottles or pacifiers,” she says. “But I do think parents should follow their pediatrician’s advice about when to transition children from a bottle to a cup and when to dispense with the pacifier.”

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