Should you give your baby a pacifier?
If you’re a new mom or mom-to-be, you’re probably scouring the internet for tips & tricks to help keep the baby-cries to a minimum. If there’s an invention that soothes your baby and helps them sleep longer, you probably want your hands on it... am I right? Well, that’s why baby pacifiers are one of the most popular go-to parenting tools for calming a fussy baby.
Since sucking has a soothing effect, and most babies are born with a natural sucking reflex, it stands to reason that a pacifier would do the trick. The suckling action on a pacifier helps babies soothe themselves — just what sleep deprived parents need!
But while these nifty, calming-tools may be easy to pop in a whaling baby mouth, many parents wonder if this carefree sucking might be habit-forming, teeth-altering, or interfere with feedings. It’s hard to classify a pacifier good or bad, since there are many opinions & theories on the topic. And it’s totally normal to feel confused or conflicted when it comes to researching pacifier pros and cons.
So, is it ok to give a newborn a pacifier? Are pacifiers bad for babies? Well, there’s no “black or white” answer to using pacifiers. The truth is, every baby is totally unique. That means what worked for someone else’s baby may be completely different than what works for yours.
The decision to use a baby pacifier is up to you. Pacifiers can bring a lot of benefits to your baby when used responsibly. Just read on to understand when to give pacifiers, the benefits and risks, and the safety tips to keep in mind.
When to give newborn pacifier
When determining how soon you should give your newborn a pacifier, there’s no right or wrong answer. However, if you’re breastfeeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) generally recommends waiting until you and your baby have a nursing routine established. For most nursing parents, this is usually when your baby is about 3 to 4 weeks old.
Pacifier pros and cons
Soothes a fussy baby — Whether it be lack of sleep, hunger, or pain, newborn pacifiers are the perfect tool to soothe and calm your fussy, crying baby. Keep your baby quiet in public, patient between meals, calm during shots, and soothed during sleep. Since sucking is a natural soothing instinct for babies, pacifiers are one of the easiest ways to “shut them up”, so to speak.
Some babies are only happy when they are sucking, yet they can’t be eating all the time! The pacifier offers that extra sucking without causing infants to overeat.
Also, if you have a rather low tolerance for crying, the pacifier stops the crying, which results in a much less stressed mom.
Helps baby fall asleep — Even if your little one isn’t crying, sucking a baby pacifier may help them fall asleep and stay asleep longer. In those first few months, babies are still learning to self-soothe on their own. Your baby’s desire to suck is a natural soothing technique that’s already instilled at birth, so sucking can help them self-soothe.
Some babies fall asleep at the breast and laying them down in their cribs can be difficult to do without waking them. If you can slip the pacifier into your baby’s mouth, you may be able to get him into bed without him waking. Popping the baby binky back in his mouth when he wakes during the night can also help him drift back to dreamland.
Breastfeed exclusively — Once your infant has learned to successfully latch and feed on the breast, you can introduce a pacifier to help keep them content between feedings. This helps you avoid supplementing with a bottle, which makes it possible to exclusively breastfeed.
Ease discomfort — If your baby becomes sick or colicky, or requires a check-up or shot that may cause fear or pain, the pacifier can be a very helpful tool in calming their discomfort or anxiety. The act of sucking can also help reduce pain.
Reduce the risk of SIDS — If you’ve asked yourself, “can a newborn sleep with a pacifier?”, the answer is yes! In fact, several medical studies have found that giving your baby a pacifier while they sleep may be associated with a reduced risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), possibly by more than half.
This may be because newborn pacifiers make it harder for your baby to roll over onto their stomach, or block your baby’s face from accidently getting too close to the mattress. Other researchers think that sucking on a pacifier might help babies develop better nerve reflexes and breathing muscles.
SIDS is the most common cause of death in babies between 1 month and 1 year, so it can be beneficial to use a pacifier for sleep during that first year of baby’s life. So go ahead and lay your baby down to sleep, on their back, with a pacifier. The AAP’s safety guidelines against SIDS advise that pacifiers help even if they fall out after your baby nods off.
Easy to dispose of — Since sucking is such a natural reflex for infants, they can get in the habit of sucking their thumbs or fingers very early in life. Pacifiers, if introduced early on, are a great disposable alternative, allowing you the ability to toss the tool, and break the habit once your child becomes a toddler.
Disrupt breastfeeding — Nipple confusion can be a negative result of pacifiers and breastfeeding. The shape of a pacifier is different from the shape of a nipple, so offering both before nursing is well-established can confuse a very sensitive baby and interfere with nursing.
Newborns may also find it easier to suck on the pacifier, which can make it more difficult for them to latch when breastfeeding. Also, more of their energy may be given to sucking on the pacifier which can cause them to fall asleep or show less interest when it comes time to feed from the breast.
If breastfeeding is an important part of your parenting plan, make sure you give special attention to establishing a good latch and routine before offering up a pacifier.
Oral or dental problems — If you’re wondering “how long should a baby use a pacifier?”, the first year of their life should suffice. However, children can still be attached to their baby binky into their toddler years. It’s advised that you eradicate that dependency no later than 3 years old, so there’s no long term effects on your child’s oral development. Prolonged pacifier use can cause problems with proper growth of the mouth and may lead to misaligned teeth, a poorly-shaped roof of the mouth, tongue protrusion, and reduced lip and cheek strength. All of this can interfere with feeding and speech development. To avoid any oral problems (or braces in your future), it’s best to start breaking the habit after 1 year so your toddler will be pacifier free by 2 or 3.
Baby becomes dependent — While the paci may work like a charm when inserted, it can also cause some upheaval once removed — which can defeat the purpose. Getting up every five minutes to stick the binky in your baby’s mouth may have you questioning your decision in the first place. A strong dependency on their comforting-soother can be earth shattering for babies once it’s dropped, lost, or taken away. Once they love it, it’s hard to go back, and it may be the only thing that works. So make sure you’re prepared to pick those pacifiers up, wash them off, and pop them back in. Is it worth it? — That’s for you to decide.
Ear infections — The pacifier may increase your child’s risk of middle ear infections. Sucking on a soother may make it difficult for the ear tubes to drain properly. However, before you rule it out, middle ear infections tend to be more common after the first 6 months. That means those first 6 months when sucking is in high demand, your baby is less prone to those infections. Also, the risk for SIDS is at its highest during those first 6 months, which is when the pacifier may assist in preventing it. If after 6 months, middle ear infections roll around, that may be a good time to start weaning your baby from the pacifier.
Weaning can be difficult — Yes, weaning is a common pacifier flaw. The hassle of breaking a baby pacifier dependency can seem even more daunting than the screams that caused it. Keep that in mind when you decide to introduce this crutch. You’ll need to be willing and ready to help your toddler part with their soothing companion when the time comes.
Pacifier do's and don'ts
Introduce the pacifier after breastfeeding is established — If you’re breastfeeding, It is recommended that pacifiers and other types of artificial nipples be avoided for at least the first 3-4 weeks, so as not to cause nipple confusion & problems breastfeeding. Take the AAP’s word for it, and wait until you and your baby have a nursing routine down pat.
Don’t make the pacifier your first resort — I know it’s tempting to shove a paci in baby’s mouth at the first sign of a whimper, but try not to lean on the pacifier as your first resort. Have you tried rocking or shushing? Have you met all your baby’s needs, such as feeds, burps, or diaper changes? Don’t forget that babies communicate with those cries — annoying as they can be. You don’t want to ignore them if it’s important. Go ahead and resort to the pacifier once you’ve tended to everything else.
Also, at about 5 months old, the suckling reflex will fade, which is a good time to start trying other ways to calm your baby. Try holding, feeding, rocking, walking, or playing.
Don’t force it — If your baby doesn’t like pacifiers, or doesn’t calm when using them, there’s no need to force it. All babies are unique, so what works for some, may not work for others. Forcing doesn’t help or make it better.
Don’t sugarcoat it — Sugarcoating (covering the pacifier in sugar, honey, corn syrup, or other sugary materials) is not helpful or healthy. As mentioned previously, you don’t want to force it, so bribery is not necessary. Besides that, sugar is not good for your child’s incoming teeth.
Don’t overuse it — The overuse of a pacifier during the day could prevent your baby from getting enough milk at daytime feedings, which can cause them to wake more often during the night to eat. Going without breastfeeding for long stretches can also negatively impact a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply.
Pacifier safety tips
Choose a one-piece — Use one-piece baby pacifiers that can’t come apart. Don't use pacifiers with built-in gadgets, moving parts, or liquid interiors. You want to reduce the risk of choking.
Choose safe materials — Look for newborn pacifiers that are made from natural rubber and other safe materials. Avoid pacifiers that contain harmful chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA).
Use the appropriate size for your baby — Not too big and not too small. Use a pacifier that is small enough that it won’t set off your baby’s gag reflex, but big enough that it covers their mouth — and ensure there are holes for breathing.
Use clips & straps wisely — Pacifier clips & straps are pretty handy in preventing those inconvenient paci drops, but they should be used wisely. Never tie or wrap any cords, straps, or strings around baby’s neck. If a paci strap is clipped to your baby’s clothing, ensure the strap is not too long, so as to avoid a strangulation hazard.
Keep it clean — To avoid germs and illness, make sure the paci is sterile before entering baby’s mouth. You can sterilize pacifiers by boiling them in water, or throwing them in the dishwasher (if they’re dishwasher safe). If the paci falls on the ground, pick it up and rinse it off before sticking it back in baby’s mouth. And yes — It’s even OK to suck your baby’s pacifier clean sometimes — this might help prevent allergies later on.
Whether or not to use a baby pacifier is a decision only you can make. You know your child best, and you will be the best judge. Pacifiers are safe if used responsibly! It’s up to YOU as to when and how you use them.
Although there are cons, they mainly occur before breastfeeding is established, and after six months of age. Otherwise, prime paci time is between 1 to 6 months, and it can be super beneficial for both baby and you. A newborn sleeping with a pacifier may actually reduce their risk of SIDS.
According to the AAP, it's best to wean your baby off the beloved pacifier around the age of 1 year, but until then, enjoy every peaceful moment you can get.