Like their name suggests, pacifiers not only help soothe your baby, but they can also reduce crying significantly. As with so many parenting choices, there are certain considerations for a new parent to weigh as you decide whether to introduce one.
If your baby is nursing, you should wait to offer a pacifier until breastfeeding is well established—usually around 3 to 4 weeks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
If your baby is nursing regularly, seems satisfied after feedings, is peeing frequently, pooping at least three times a day, and gaining weight, breastfeeding is likely going well. Consider avoiding the pacifier in the 30 minutes or so before you suspect your baby may want to feed so you can observe their hunger cues.
Vantages of a Pacifier
During the first few years of their lives, your baby may instinctively seek something to suckle on beyond feeding and nursing, such as their fingers or thumbs. Known as non-nutritive sucking, sucking on a pacifier, finger, or thumb can help your baby cultivate a sense of comfort, fall asleep, and manage their mood state.
Non-nutritive sucking can also help your baby feel calm and relaxed, especially during medical appointments. Some parents also find that pacifiers are an indispensable tool for calming a fussing baby.
So long as the behavior isn’t excessive, non-nutritive sucking is generally considered normal during the first two to three years of your child’s life.
Potential SIDS Prevention
Pacifier use at bedtime and naptime has been associated with a decreased risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), though researchers are still working to understand why.
Some studies suggest that a pacifier keeps the tongue forward for unobstructed breathing, while others point to a pacifier’s ability to help an infant stay asleep, thus minimizing the likelihood of rolling onto their stomach or sides.
Easier Airplane Flights
For adults and babies alike, the change in barometric pressure that occurs during airplane takeoff or landing can cause uncomfortable ear pain (known as airplane ear, or ear barotrauma).
While many older children and adults can deal with airplane ears through yawning, swallowing, or chewing gum, babies don’t yet know how to alleviate their symptoms in these ways.
If it’s not time for your baby to feed or if they won’t take the bottle or breast during takeoff or landing, a pacifier can help prevent or alleviate airplane ear.
While your baby’s fingers and thumbs will always be with them, pacifiers can be easily removed from the environment to limit use and to help them transition away from non-nutritive sucking.
For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends pacifiers over a thumb for comforting your baby.
Disadvantages of a Pacifier
If you are planning to breastfeed, introducing a pacifier to your baby too early may interfere with how well your baby takes to breastfeeding. The way a baby latches on to the nipple is different than the way a baby would latch on to a pacifier or bottle.
As such, it is suggested waiting 3-4 weeks, or until you’ve established an effective nursing schedule, to introduce your baby to a pacifier.
At Right Start we know how important it is for families to understand that using a pacifier can be somewhat detrimental when it comes to your baby’s dental health.
Long-term use of a pacifier can affect the way your child’s mouth and teeth develop. This may lead to dental problems such as an overbite or a cross bite. Research also suggests that the use of a pacifier may lead to higher rates of inner ear infections.
Although a minor inconvenience, some families also do not care for using a pacifier simply because it is likely that you will need to get up multiple times in the middle of the night to put it back in your child’s mouth until they are old enough to do so themselves.
Tips for Using the Pacifier
If families decide to use a pacifier, here are some helpful things to remember:
- If planning to breastfeed, first establish an effective nursing schedule.
- Do not use sugar on the pacifier as it can lead to dental issues.
- Keep the pacifier clean. Babies’ immune systems need to develop, so cleaning the pacifier thoroughly between uses will help defend against illnesses.
- Don’t force the pacifier on your baby. Only give it to your child if they seem interested in it.
- Use the appropriate size pacifier for your child.
If you are unsure of whether to introduce the pacifier to your child, speak to your pediatrician about the pros and cons and any concerns you may have. At the end of the day, the “right decision” is an informed decision that you and your partner are most comfortable with.