Should I give my baby a pacifier?
As a new parent, comforting your baby is one of your highest priorities, and you may find a pacifier very helpful.
Some babies can be soothed with rocking and cuddling and are content to suck only during feedings. Others just can’t seem to suckle enough, even when they’re not hungry. If your baby still wants to suck after having her fill of formula or breast milk, a pacifier may be just the thing.
A pacifier isn’t a substitute for nurturing or feeding, of course, but if your baby is still fussy after you’ve fed, burped, cuddled, rocked, and played with her, you might want to see if a pacifier will satisfy her.
There’s another benefit to using a pacifier: Some studies have shown that babies who use pacifiers at bedtime and nap time have a lower risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). These studies don’t show that the pacifier itself prevents SIDS, just that there’s a strong association between pacifier use and a lower risk of SIDS.
Also, a pacifier habit is easier to break than a thumb-sucking habit. After all, you can dispose of a binky!
What are the disadvantages of pacifier use?
Pacifier use may increase the risk of middle ear infections in babies and young children. Because the risk of these infections is generally lower in young babies, using a pacifier until your baby’s half birthday (when his need to suck is greatest) and weaning him from it soon after may work just fine – especially if he’s prone to ear infections.
It used to be thought that babies who used a pacifier before they got the hang of nursing sometimes experienced nipple confusion, which interfered with successful breastfeeding. But experts now say the research is conflicting, and there aren’t any studies that conclusively show whether the two are related.
But if you’re breastfeeding your baby, you may still want to wait until he’s a proficient nurser before offering a pacifier. Sucking on a pacifier and sucking on a breast are different actions, and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you wait until your baby is breastfeeding well and your milk supply is established.
His 1-month birthday should be about right, though that’s just a guideline. If your baby is nursing well, gaining weight, and has a routine feeding schedule, you can start earlier. Give him the pacifier after his regular feedings to make sure he gets all the nourishment he needs.
Sucking on a pacifier can easily become a habit, and many parents don’t introduce one because they don’t want to deal with having to take it away later (or because they don’t like the thought of their 3-year-old walking around with a pacifier in his mouth).
If you allow your child to use a pacifier but want to avoid binky battles, take it away when he reaches his first birthday. Being careful not to overuse the pacifier can help make sure your child doesn’t become dependent on it.
How to manage your baby’s pacifier use
If you decide to introduce a pacifier, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Let your baby guide your decision. If she takes to it right away, fine. But if she resists, don’t force it. You can try again another time or just respect her preference and let it go.
- Offer the pacifier between feedings when you know he’s not hungry.
- Avoid using a pacifier to delay your baby’s feedings or as a substitute for your attention. That said, sometimes your baby does have to wait to be fed or comforted (in the checkout line at the grocery store, for example, or in her car seat five blocks from home). In these instances, a pacifier can be a godsend.
- Try giving your baby the binky at nap time and bedtime. (But if it falls out of her mouth while she’s sleeping, don’t put it back in.) When your baby’s fussy, first try to comfort her in other ways, such as cuddling, rocking, or singing.
- Don’t tie a pacifier around your baby’s neck or to his crib. He could strangle in the cord or ribbon. It’s safe to attach the pacifier to his clothes with a clip made especially for the job.
- Take care of the pacifier. Choose a pacifier that’s safe and appropriate for your baby, and keep it clean by rinsing it with warm water. Replace it as soon as it shows small cracks or other signs of wear.
- Don’t “clean” a pacifier by putting it in your mouth. The American Dental Association says adult saliva contains bacteria that can cause cavities in your baby’s teeth as soon as they begin to erupt from her gums. (And it’s not a good idea to dip your child’s pacifier in juice or sugar water because this can also lead to cavities.)
When not to give a pacifier to a baby
Don’t give a pacifier to a baby who is having problems gaining weight. So if your baby is having difficulty nursing (or if you’re having trouble maintaining your milk supply), it’s probably best to do without a pacifier, at least for now. You’ll also want to consider having your baby go without a pacifier if he’s had repeated ear infections.
But if you have a premature infant who’s not gaining enough weight, a binky probably won’t have much of an effect one way or another. And using a pacifier may actually protect preemies from SIDS, so talk it over with his doctor before ruling it out.
If you don’t want your newborn to have a pacifier at the hospital, tell the nurses ahead of time – especially if you intend to breastfeed. Although a day or two of pacifier use in the hospital won’t be habit forming, it simply doesn’t make sense to introduce something you aren’t going to use at home.
Can a pacifier harm development of teeth?
Kids are unlikely to damage their teeth, jaw, or bite if they stop using a pacifier by the time they’re 2 or 3 years old – and your child probably won’t be at it for that long. During the years that most kids use a pacifier, they have only their baby teeth. (Permanent teeth typically start appearing by age 6.)
That said, the longer your child uses a pacifier, the greater the chance it will affect dental development. If you ever become concerned about this, ask your child’s doctor or dentist to make sure your child’s jaw and teeth are doing fine.