Experts Give Pacifiers a Thumbs-Up

Experts Give Pacifiers a Thumbs-Up

Leading children’s health experts now recommend pacifiers for babies. Learn about the benefits and how to offset possible drawbacks.

Pacifiers are standard equipment in many nurseries, but they evoke strong feelings among some family advocates. Many worry that pacifier use may interfere with breast-feeding or cause long-term dental problems. Some are concerned that parents may “plug” their babies instead of nursing or cuddling them.

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. Sucking gives them comfort and pleasure. Babies who don’t get a pacifier are likely to suck their thumb.

Pacifiers may also literally be lifesavers. Studies have shown a strong link between pacifier use and a decrease in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is a leading cause of death in babies younger than 1 year old, with the highest death rate in those 2 to 4 months old.

Two children’s health expert groups now recommend pacifiers for babies.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that a pacifier be used at naptime and bedtime through the first year of life to reduce the risk of SIDS. It also urges pacifier use to reduce pain in babies up to 6 months of age who undergo minor medical procedures such as circumcision or immunization.
  • 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 drawbacks. Here are some ways to offset them.

Pacifier use may cause dental problems, such as crooked teeth or bite problems.It’s unlikely to cause problems if a child quits by age 2, as most children do. Any sucking habit should be discouraged after age 4.  
Children who use pacifiers have a higher rate of ear infections.Reducing pacifier use between 6 months and 1 year of age can lower this risk.  
Pacifier use may lead to early weaning from the breast.This is less likely if the pacifier is given after breast-feeding is well established.  

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.

If you do decide to give your baby a pacifier, follow these guidelines:

  • If you’re breast-feeding, wait until your baby is 1 month old before introducing a pacifier. If you’re bottle-feeding, you don’t need to wait.
  • Give 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.
  • If your baby doesn’t want a pacifier, don’t force the issue.
  • Do not coat the pacifier with any type of sweetener.
  • Clean pacifiers often and replace them regularly. Choose a type that is dishwasher-safe.
  • Never use a string or cord to attach the pacifier to the baby’s clothing or crib.
  • Choose a pacifier with a shield wider than the baby’s mouth. If the baby can fit the whole pacifier in her mouth, stop using it.
  • Never substitute a bottle nipple for a pacifier.
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