Pacifiers are one of the most controversial topics in the realm of babies. It can leave a new parent wondering if they should give one to their baby or not, whether it is safe or healthy for their little one.
Overall, there is no reason to deny your child a pacifier if they are willing to take one – they can actually be very helpful to parents – but you need to know how to use them properly. You need to be aware of all the pros and cons as well as all the ins and outs of pacifier use.
1. Pro: A Reduced Risk of SIDS
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) remains a rather big mystery in the medical field. While there are certain patterns and factors that seem to contribute to a child’s risk level, there is no singular cause that can be determined in order to avoid this tragic event.
Babies who die from SIDS are usually under a year old and are more often male, though it can happen to any child. Certain environmental factors can also increase the risk factor such as a baby’s exposure to secondhand smoke or a child who sleeps in an overcrowded crib.
There is no solid evidence to prove that pacifier use decreases the risk of SIDS, but studies have shown that there may be a link between the two. If you are worried about your child’s risk for SIDS, consider giving them a pacifier when they sleep.
2. Con: Possible Ear Infection Risk
Middle ear infections are typically the result of either viral or bacterial infections, occurring in the empty space present behind the eardrum. Babies are particularly prone to developing ear infections, so you need to pay attention to certain risk factors in order to avoid long term issues.
For some reason, pacifier use is linked to higher rates of contraction of middle ear infections. Just like SIDS, there’s no direct cause or evidence to be proven here, only a strong connection that is pretty convincing on its own.
Children between the ages of 6 and 48 months have the highest likelihood of developing middle ear infections, so keep an eye out for symptoms if your baby uses a pacifier at this age. Be sure to take your baby to their pediatrician right away if you suspect they have developed an ear infection.
3. Pro: Easier Form of Soothing
The main reason pacifiers are a popular choice for parents is due to their ability to soothe a baby. Infants are born with a natural reflex and desire to suck to help them with breastfeeding. This reflex also allows them to soothe through sucking.
Some babies are good at self-soothing, but it’s not entirely common. Instead most will soothe by sucking on a finger or their thumb, or they may even choose to suckle at the breast without eating. Babies’ natural desire to soothe by sucking can be solved with a pacifier.
4. Con: Losing the Pacifier at Night
While a pacifier can be helpful for soothing your baby – and helping them fall asleep at night – it can be very difficult when your baby loses their pacifier at night.
They may not be able to get back to sleep without it, and when they wake up during the night without it, they will cry until you come back in the room to replace it. It can really cause you to lose some sleep.
A glow in the dark pacifier can help you find it easier without turning on the light, but it still doesn’t help your baby replace it by themselves. You will still need to get up several times during the night to find it for them.
5. Pro: Easier to Wean
Weaning your baby off anything can be quite the task. They are often resistant to change, making transitions – like moving from bottle to cup or breast to solids – very difficult.
Weaning your baby off the pacifier can still be difficult, but it is far easier to take a pacifier away than it is to break a thumb-sucking habit. If you need to, you can quit cold turkey by simply throwing the pacifier away; thumbs aren’t so easy to get rid of.
6. Con: May become Over Dependent
It is very easy for a child to become over dependent on a pacifier, though. This can make weaning difficult as well as many other day to day things with your little one. They won’t be able to go anywhere or do anything without it.
The biggest problem arises when it comes to sleeping. Because many babies nurse or suck in order to fall asleep, your little one will likely not be able to sleep without their pacifier. It also makes losing it during the night a much bigger deal.
7. Pro: Eases Air Travel
Due to the change in air pressure, flying can really bother a child’s ears. They may feel plugged up, uncomfortable, or slightly painful. Sucking on a pacifier can help relieve pressure in your baby’s ears while you are flying.
Because pacifiers are naturally soothing, it can also may your fight a bit easier so you don’t end up feeling uncomfortable as the parent with the screaming child. It can help them sleep better on the flight and just keep them calm overall.
8. Con: Potential for Future Dental Issues
Using a pacifier for too long can cause a baby to develop dental issues, including overbite, overjet, or even cavities. Using a pacifier beyond the age of 2 or 3 increases a child’s likelihood of needing orthodontic treatment in the future.
Now, pacifiers themselves aren’t a concern for dental issues – as many parents worry. It is merely prolonged use that you should be wary of. Shortly, we will talk more about how proper shape and sizing of a pacifier can actually aid in proper oral development.
9. Start after Breastfeeding is Established
So, when is the best time to introduce a pacifier? AFTER breastfeeding has been established.
The type of sucking a baby does when breastfeeding is completely different from the kind they do for pacifiers. Breastfeeding requires a wide, open-mouthed latch while pacifier sucking only requires a narrow latch.
This can lead to nipple confusion or even improper latch while breastfeeding, and improper latch can lead to malnutrition, decrease in milk supply, and even breast problems like mastitis and plugged ducts.
This is why it’s a good idea to make sure your little one is correctly breastfeeding before introducing a pacifier. After all, it is the act of breastfeeding that brings your child the nutrients they need, not the pacifier.
10. Offer, but Don't Force
While there are some babies who immediately take to pacifiers with no coaxing, it isn’t the case for every child. Some may be more resistant as the pacifier nipple feels artificial and they simply want mom’s breast.
Some babies are already proficient at self-soothing, which means that a pacifier will do nothing for them. There is no need to introduce something that needs to be weaned later if your baby doesn’t want or need it.
There aren't any crucial benefits your baby will receive from a pacifier. Its main purpose, after all, is to keep your baby happy. As such, you shouldn’t force a pacifier on your baby. You can try time and again to introduce the pacifier if you feel it will be something beneficial to both of you, but if they don’t take it by the time they are 6 months old, you should just let it go.
11. Choose the Right Shape and Size
As we mentioned earlier, a pacifier – when it is the correct shape and size – can actually aid in oral development. You should always look for an orthodontic pacifier and buy the one that is made for your baby’s age.
The age limitations noted on the packaging affect the nipple/bulb size. It creates the right amount of pressure on the palate when your baby is sucking in order to help the arch develop properly.
Again, if your baby doesn’t want to take a pacifier and they aren’t sucking their thumb, pacifiers won’t really do anything for them. But if they are sucking their thumb, a pacifier will be better for them in terms of oral development so they don’t have misaligned teeth and a narrow palate arch.
12. Replace if It becomes Damaged
Just like all your baby’s items, pacifiers will undergo wear and tear. The nipple may tear or crack if washed improperly or if they are chewed on consistently by sharp little teeth. They can even deteriorate over time.
You should check the pacifier for damage before you give it to your child every time. Any damage or broken pieces can become potential choking hazards. If you notice any sort of damage or discoloration, you should throw the pacifier out immediately and replace it with a new one.
13. Clean Pacifiers Regularly
Your child’s pacifier will get dirty – A LOT. Between dropping it on the ground, dragging it on the floor when crawling, or the dog grabbing it, you will be cleaning it quite often.
Keeping your baby’s pacifier(s) clean is crucial as it goes in their mouth all the time. You don’t want them introducing harmful bacteria or other substances into their body, which can make them very sick.
Here are some tips for cleaning your child’s pacifiers on a regular basis:
- Always follow the cleaning instructions on the pacifier packaging. Most can be boiled, but some may have special directions.
- Clean the pacifiers right after you buy them, before you give them to your child for the first time. Packaging can be dirty.
- When your child’s pacifier drops, take it away from them immediately and place it somewhere they cannot reach. Keeping a bag handy for dirty pacifiers is always a good idea so you don’t get confused about which ones are clean and dirty.
- Never attempt to clean a pacifier with your own mouth. This can introduce foreign bacteria to your child who has a very weak and underdeveloped immune system.
- Setting aside a day or two every week (depending on how many pacifiers you have) to clean your child’s pacifiers is a good way to ensure they are always clean. Make sure they are completely cooled and dry before giving them back to your little one.
14. Always Carry a Spare
There are few things worse than dropping your baby’s pacifier out of the house and realizing you don’t have another one with you. Even if you stop by the store to get a new one, it will need to be cleaned before your baby can use it.
It’s always a good idea to carry a spare pacifier – or two, or three – when you are out for just these moments. Just keep a plastic bag in your purse or the diaper bag to keep some extra pacifiers handy so you are never without them.
15. Don’t Go DIY
It can be tempting to fashion a low-cost pacifier from bottle nibs, caps, or other items you have lying around the house. This is never a good idea; homemade pacifiers can be a potential choking hazard for babies. The pieces used may also be sharp, not sterile, or may contain materials that are hazardous.
There is a reason that commercial pacifiers are made the way they are – they’re the safest shape, size, and configuration for a baby to use without fearing for their safety. In addition, commercial pacifiers are made to be easy to clean and wash, whereas DIY pacifiers have a tendency to be more susceptible to bacteria of all sorts.
You should also never resort to DIY solutions to convince your baby to suck on a pacifier. Pacifiers aren’t that expensive; just pay the few dollars needed to get your baby something that is safe.
16. Pacifiers Shouldn't be a First Response
Parents can easily fall into the trap of giving their baby a pacifier for every little fuss and cry. After all, it’s so much easier to grab a pacifier when you are busy. You have a lot to do and likely tired from lack of sleep, so giving your baby a pacifier quiets them right away.
Treating the pacifier as a first response to every cry will not only cause your child to develop a dependency on the pacifier but may also cause you to miss cues for important issues that a pacifier can’t solve.
The majority of the time, babies don’t just start crying because they want to suck on something. A fussing baby might be hungry, need to be changed, need burping, or even just want some cuddles or a change in position. You should eliminate all of these possibilities before offering your baby a pacifier.
17. What to Do if Your Baby Doesn't Like the Pacifier?
As mentioned previously, you should never force your baby to take a pacifier. However, there are cases that may require a little more coaxing. If your baby doesn’t know how to self soothe and they seem like they need something to help calm them down – but they won’t take a pacifier, some parents may start to panic.
It can be very exhausting to have a fussy baby who won’t take a pacifier. It may take a bit of time and persuasion to get your baby to accept one. For some babies, it may take months.
Sometimes, it could just be the shape of the nipple that your baby doesn’t like. It could be the difference between rubber and silicone. Whatever the case may be, try several types of pacifiers. It may take a while before you find the one your baby likes.
Again, never force it, but if your child needs some form of soothing, just use gentle persuasion. If your baby still won’t take it after trying for a while – especially if they are older than 6 months – just let it be and find other ways to cope.
18. Other Tips for Safe Pacifier Use
We’ve already covered the importance of cleaning pacifiers, throwing them out if they are damaged, and avoiding all DIY options. But there are a few more tips to consider when using a pacifier with your baby to ensure they stay safe.
- Only attach a pacifier to your baby’s clothes with an approved pacifier clip and strap. Do not let them sleep with the strap as this can create a choking hazard.
- Never dip the pacifier in anything sweet to get your baby to take it. This includes honey, fruit juice, and breast milk. The sugars can cause cavities.
19. Saying Goodbye to the Pacifier
There comes a time to wean your child from their pacifier regardless of when they start to take it. For some babies, this can be very easy, especially if they are old enough to understand and only take it at bedtime.
But for those who may have a harder time, you may need to wean a bit more gradually. Start by cutting back use to just sleep times, eventually making it just for bed at night. Once your child is used to not getting it often, you can start cutting back on night time use too.
Some parents may choose to quit cold turkey, simply throwing all of the away so there is no temptation to give it to your child. It may take a few days of crying (and screaming), but when they realize you no longer have any pacifiers around, they will get used to it.
20. When Pacifiers May not be a Good Idea
Pacifiers aren’t necessarily a good idea for every child. In fact, there are some cases in which pacifiers should be avoided altogether for a baby’s health and safety.
Do not give a pacifier to your baby in these circumstances:
- The baby is struggling to gain weight
- The baby is prone to frequent ear infections
- Babies who are a high risk for latex allergies
- Child is older and developing a speech impediment
In summary, babies whose physical well being is at risk – whether it’s their current health or future development – due to the use of a pacifier should not be given one.