Pacifier Use, What to Consider?
Learn how to use pacifiers effectively.
A pacifier-sucking baby is a common sight. But there are those experts and parents who are anti-pacifier. There are fears of crooked teeth and babies rejecting the breast. And of course, there’s the fear that pacifiers may be habit forming.
But as many frazzled parents can tell you, a pacifier can be a valuable tool, especially if you have a baby who is hard to soothe. Babies have an urge to suck, even when they're not hungry. For some babies, sucking gives them comfort and pleasure.
Pacifiers may also literally be lifesavers. Studies have shown a link between pacifier use at nap and bedtime and a decrease in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is a leading cause of death in babies 1 month to 1 year old, with the highest death rate in those 2 to 4 months old.
Two children's health professional groups recommend pacifiers for babies.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that parents consider offering a pacifier at naptime and bedtime to reduce the risk of SIDS.
- The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry prefers pacifier use to thumb sucking because it's easier to break the habit early. The earlier a sucking habit is stopped, the less likely it is to cause dental problems.
What about the drawbacks?
Pacifiers do have some potential concerns. But here are the facts.
Pacifier use may cause dental problems, such as crooked teeth or bite problems.
It's unlikely to cause problems if a child quits at an early age. Any sucking habit should be discouraged after age 3.
Pacifiers can become a habit.
Limit pacifier use. Only offer a pacifier to your baby at naptime and bedtime or when you’re sure your baby is not hungry and just needs some oral comfort.
Pacifier use may lead to early weaning from the breast.
Studies have shown that the timing of giving a pacifier is not likely to impact the effects on breast-feeding. Consider waiting until your baby is nursing well if breast-feeding.
It's up to you
You may have good reasons why you do or don't want your baby to use a pacifier. In the end, the decision is yours. Talk with your doctor if you have questions.
If you do decide to give your baby a pacifier, follow these guidelines:
- If you're breast-feeding, wait until your baby is nursing well before introducing a pacifier. This usually takes about a month. If you’re bottle-feeding, you don’t need to wait.
- Offer the pacifier when putting your baby down for a nap and at bedtime. If it falls out after the baby is asleep, don't put it back in.
- If your baby doesn't want a pacifier, don't force the issue.
- Do not coat the pacifier with any type of sweetener.
- Don’t use a pacifier if you know your baby is hungry.
- Clean pacifiers often and replace them regularly. Choose a dishwasher-safe type.
- Never use a string or cord to attach the pacifier to the crib.
- Don’t put babies to sleep with pacifiers that attach to the baby’s clothes.
- Choose a pacifier with a shield wider than the baby's mouth. If the baby can fit the whole pacifier in his or her mouth, stop using it.
- Never substitute a bottle nipple for a pacifier.
By Emily King, Contributing Writer
American Academy of Pediatrics. Pacifiers: Satisfying your baby’s needs. Accessed: July 15, 2016.
American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force. Policy statement. SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Expansion of recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics. 2011;128(5):1030-1039 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-2284). Accessed: July 15, 2016.
American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Fast facts. Accessed: July 15, 2016.
Last Updated: July 15, 2016