Cutting Chai: Conversations about pacifiers

Conversations about Pacifiers

Masala Chai team and Facebook friends. Image accessed from

Several years ago, I posted a comment on facebook about pacifiers. Over the months that have passed, the conversation has continued and we thought it would be an interesting follow up to our earlier post on pacifiers: (

More recently, we have found symbols for infants have been replaced by images of pacifiers in public spaces, newspapers, public toilets….and thought that this is an important shift in meaning, since symbols are significant for us as members of culture. We would like to thank all the participants of this conversation for sharing their views with us.

From the Facebook post:

Dear All, I am really curious about the use of pacifiers for infants and toddlers. These seem to be universally accepted among European and American families as basic for keeping the baby ‘soothed’. In my initial explorations with Indian parents and grandparents, I have had a surge of reactions (predominantly negative) ranging from mild acceptance, doubt, discomfort, dismissal to serious rejection. What about Brazil, the African subcontinent, Australia? Would love to have your opinions on what you believe about soothers for babies and young children.

Monika Abels‪ I should put you in touch with my sister, maybe, who rejected the pacifier vehemently for her first born but then got one for one of her later children with the result that the older one also wanted and got one… I don’t think my brother’s children have them, either.

‪I think it is one of those things that “pronatural” parents in Europe (and probably the US) are a bit skeptical about as well.

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Thanks, Mo……will you use one? ‪;)

Monika Abels ‪like several other things- we don’t agree on the issue…

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Hahahaha…..not really the detail I was hoping for…… leading a seminar on this, so I clearly need more ‘meat’ or preferably ‘teat’ (apologies) on this one!! Help me out here ‪:). Email if you wish

Jyotsna Yargop‪ We have tried with great force to push one in my grandsons mouth . Result: out it comes with equal force and loud and clear protests !

Monika Abels‪ ya, some parents here also say that it takes time to get infants used to them and that some never accept them

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Thank you all (inbox messages as well :)) the primary reasons for not giving the pacifier….infections and ‘if the child is crying it must be for a reason, do not want to shut the child up!! Interesting!!

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Yes!! Thanks for the detailed response, Mo!! ‪:)

Monika Abels‪ oh, another thing- I think the picture that goes with your link is really interesting: in my mom’s village in Hungary people (though not her family) would put crushed poppy seeds and sugar into pieces of cloth and give it to babies as pacifiers. I am sure that’s a pretty effective way of drugging infants. I have been told there have been versions of that around with alcohol, too.

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Hahahahaha! Were you brought up on one of those? ‪:P

Monika Abels‪ do you mean to say we are all a little crazy in my family due to the early influence of drugs ‪:-P

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Considering the sort of stuff all of us have had……we’re ALL victims of marginal doses of madness!! And thank god for that ‪:)

Vini Gupta‪ I am neutral about it. However, I never felt the need to get one for my kids and I don’t regret not buying it. ‪:)

Lisa Comparini‪ We didn’t use them for either of our children (we probably fall into the “pronatural” group mentioned above). I felt that it was probably another gadget I could do without. When the babies needed soothing, we generally picked them up and carried them around with us. That just about always did the trick.

‪Interesting topic — would love to hear a summary of what you present.

Nandita Chaudhary‪ I am so glad to read, this, Lisa. Otherwise we land up polarizing cultural methods of caring for babies as if there are clear divides. Will certainly keep you updated about the presentation. To a research group in Denmark, so it should be interesting!! ‪:) I had an interesting response from a (maternal) grandmother who remarked that the ‘thing’ makes a child’s mind listless because it sucks out all the energy ‪:P

Pooja Chadda‪ Currently being in UK, i witness the pacifier used by all groups of nationalities be it the Asians, Britishers, Polish or other groups, sometimes in children as old as 5-6 years. Though the opinion with a lot of health care professionals that i have met with in recent time, is that they are not good for general health specifically the dental health and speech development, it is still widely practiced here. I am however very ignorant about their reasons to do so:)

Kristin Susser‪ Gosh, I never even realized that some cultures don’t use dummies. Certainly when I grew up in the 60s in the USA, I was completely obsessed with my ‘binky’, according to my grandmother. My daughter, born in the UK in 1998, wouldn’t take to a dummy, but she was an avid thumb sucker, and I’ve always thought the two serving more or less the same purpose of self-soothing. They are certainly an ingrained part of the British child rearing culture, but then again so is sterilizing bottles, which I never bothered with because it’s not part of the American child rearing culture. I’ve always thought much of what we consider necessary equipment for caring for babies is a result of successful marketing.

Nandita ChaudharyKristin Susser…in India, there is a huge resistance to the use of pacifiers, and although the lurking reasons may relate to them being yet another source of infection (I assume the same would apply to other tropical cultures), interestingly, there isnothing even in our history of child rearing. Thumb sucking is somewhat tolerated, but dummies are a clear “no”, except in rare cases where pediatricians have recommended them for colic, excessive crying. There to, older women have won over and thrown the ‘thing’ away!! 🙂

Nandita ChaudharyPooja Chadda, thanks for this comment. Yes, the universal use of it in Europe/US/Australia is actually a stunning sight for an Indian mother living in India ‪:). The advantage for SIDS and disadvantage for dental structure have all been debunked according to recent studies. The point being, therefore, that when a practice fits in with the overall beliefs about childhood, it will sustain. Indian babies reared in India are considered cantankerous and loud….(I recall my airline travel experiences and random reactions of people around)….perhaps this is a reason. Thank you all for your feedback, much obliged; the presentation shall soon be finalized 🙂

Nandita Chaudhary‪ To quote a former student working in an early childhood programme in Australia “….to be very honest I personally feel giving a pacifier to a baby is more like having a dependency. I have so many young ones here throwing tantrums to such an extent if their mums n dads unfortunately forget to bring along the ‘dummies'”.

Monika Abels‪ I really love this statement “the ‘thing’ makes a child’s mind listless because it sucks out all the energy”. My impression is that Indian caregivers are much more concerned about infants taking things to their mouth in general than let’s say German mothers (maybe because of infections? or cultural reasons?). German mothers let their children take stuff into their mouth even if they are at a place like a child lab where it is obvious that others may have put it in their mouth (even though we DO disinfect the toys after a child played with them). Indian (Gujarati) mothers that I have observed have generally instantly removed any objects from their child’s mouth (with the exception of food which sometimes the child would also pick up from the floor), remarking that it was “chhi”.

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Aha! “Chhi” is spot on Mo!! I think there is also a link to the notion of ‘jhoota’ loosely translated as something that has touched the mouth of another……but that is another cultural conundrum even I haven’t been able to fully understand ‪:P

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Heard about this delightful ritual in Denmark from a colleague, and see here, in Brooklyn as well ‪:)…/covered-in…/…



Covered in Pacifiers, Trees Signal a Rite of Passage

Monika Abels‪ Btw we are a pacifier-free house now.

My youngest has never had one. He was not particularly interested when my husband and I occasionally put it in his mouth and I was conflicted anyway. Our pediatrician thought it was great that he did not have/need a pacifier, though her colleague warned that sucking a pacifier is better than sucking a thumb which is better than sucking a cloth. Moreover our pediatrician had told me we should wean our older daughter off hers because her teeth were getting affected. Our oldest, who also still had a pacifier at the time- gave up his fairly easily some months back. He agreed to have it thrown away and asked maybe once for it afterwards but was ok. I asked my daughter repeatedly whether we could get rid of hers, too. That she was a big girl now etc. She said she was not THAT big and that she didn’t mind being a baby in that context. However, we had only allowed them to use the pacifier for sleeping or maybe on long drives. But then my daughter started lying down in her bed with her pacifier to “nap” during the day. She retreated fairly often sucking her pacifier. And also occasionally got up and started playing. I tried to remind her that the pacifier was “ONLY FOR SLEEPING” but it didn’t impress her much. So finally I took the drastic measure of taking it away one day. During the day it was fine, in the evening she cried and cried. Her dad suggested to cut off a piece and give it back to her (a trick our midwife had recommended). She did not accept it that way. Finally, she only fell asleep in my bed (with husband in exile upstairs in the guest bed because there was not enough room for four of us). The next morning she brought me the “mutilated” pacifier saying she did not need it anymore and I could throw it away. I asked her to do it herself and so she did. Nights have been a little rough occasionally since, though. She has also been promised a present for giving up the pacifier which we selected online yesterday and which is on the way to us. But she has given up retreating to her bed during the day and is more involved in playing with her brother etc. In addition to the teeth issue, that makes me think that it was really high time!

Archana Jamdar‪ Interesting thought!! Also the effect of other cultures on our styles is another angle to explore!

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Yesssss…..look at today’s TOI article! ‪🤨

Monika Abels‪ My old project on first time parents just turned 10 and they changed the logo from a person holding a baby to …. you guessed? … a pacifier…/fit-fuer-den-start-3.html



Fit für den Start … und das Baby kann kommen –

Vimala Ramachandran‪ So interesting…. during my field work travel across at least 75 districts across India – I noticed that children do not use any “dummies” – of course many suck their thumb, but pacifiers are a no no….

Nandita Chaudhary‪ My experience too. I think it would be a rich source of bacterial infections as well!

Nandita ChaudharyMonika Abels, Hahahaha, interesting, the symbol for infancy is no longer the baby ‪:P it’s a rubber teat!

Anjali Aggarwal Swarup‪ Pacifiers have been used traditionally in rural settings in India too, though in a different form. Recently a lady from Manipur told me they wet a piece of cloth in sweet liquid (when jaggary is being cooked) and give to child to suck on. Some communities coat the child’s lips with jaggery etc…
I was totally unaware of these traditional practices when I was a young mother. Might have tried…if only wasn’t prejudiced against pacifiers.

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Really? I know this was practiced in the West a long time ago. But I suppose anything that gets the job done has been tried. Thanks Anjali

Monika Abels‪ Sign to changing table/breastfeeding room.

Vini Gupta‪ Never used pacifiers for my kids but always observed that many kids in Europe (visited several places) have pacifiers in their mouth. I used to think that is why these babies are always quiet and Indian babies make so much of noise in general ‪:D. Thankfully my kids weren’t noisy even without the pacifiers .

Arwa Khan‪ I was given the pacifier as a means of feeding anything sweet. It is a practice to give chewed dates (juice/pulp) to a newborn. In Islamic culture it is believed that the juice of a few dates if rubbed along the gums of a newborn baby sets the digestive system running smoothly.

Nandita Chaudhary‪ Really????

Arwa replied: Yes, it’s called Tahneek (

From another source: Tahneek is the practice of a pious person chewing something sweet (preferably a date) until it is suitable for a newborn to consume. It is thereafter placed in the mouth of the newborn mixed with a little of the saliva of the pious person. It is hoped that the saliva of the pious person will have an effect on the child where the child will grow up to be upright and have the qualities of the pious person.

Paula: I’ll say that in Chile it’s s a pretty common practice, but I ignore the take of the indigenous communities on this matter. Both of my kids used it, Leon still does. I think that with the oldest it came out of tradition, partly based on the strong believe that it will be better than sucking his thumb (-crooked teeth and thumbs-I have no idea if that’s the case, but it was the belief 15 years ago). With Leon I thought about it more intentionally as a way of soothing him. I was not totally sure and we tried it as a sos at the beginning – it rapidly became part of the routine. At the time I reflected that it was an artefact that was part of the conditions of our life. I have to say that I felt better with my self when in the documentary Babies a mom from Mongolia was soothing her baby with some kind of dough and a pin. Both of my kids have been attached to their pacifiers and used them as comfort and secure devices. I truly believe that they serve as transitional objects in Winnicott’s terms, taking into consideration the life style (with both I was partially working from early on) and family arrangements that we have (no extended family, nor nannies).

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