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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 cannot seem to suckle enough, even when they are not hungry. If your baby still wants to suck after she has had her fill of formula or breast milk, a pacifier may be just the thing.

A pacifier is not a substitute for nurturing or feeding, of course, but if your baby is still fussy after you have fed, burped, cuddled, rocked, and played with her, you might want to see if a pacifier will satisfy her.

There is another benefit to using a pacifier: Some studies have shown that babies who use pacifiers at bedtime and nap time have a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). These studies don not show that the pacifier itself prevents SIDS, just that there is 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.

Soothie, binky, paci – no matter what it’s called at your home, the pacifier is generally that go-to soother that helps lull baby off to dream land, or at least provides you a few minutes of cry-free thinking time. Pacifiers have long been used by parents who wanted to soothe their little ones, with some doctors giving the choice two thumbs up and others saying stay away. It is true that there is a bit of controversy behind the use of the pacifier, but when used correctly it is generally considered safe, and perhaps even beneficial, to your baby. Take a look at some of the pros and the cons of using the pacifier.

Pacifier Pros

Studies show that pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Although researchers aren’t quite sure the connection between the two, however they say that it is definitely there. When baby is offered a pacifier it solves his craving to suck. This is a natural reflex that all babies are born with. Perhaps you were even lucky enough to catch an ultrasound of your previous baby sucking his thumb! In either case, a pacifier helps satisfy this sensation and generally results in a much happier baby.

Also, babies who are offered a pacifier are better at soothing themselves when upset or sad.

Pacifier Cons
There are a few cons of pacifier use that you should be aware of before deciding whether you will offer it to your child. One of the biggest disadvantages of pacifier use is that it can interfere with the sucking of the nipple, thus also interfering with baby’s nutrition. Usually this is problematic only for the first couple of weeks of life as baby is getting adjusted, so you might still want to considering offering it a few weeks after birth.

There have been studies that suggest pacifier use can cause an increased number of ear infections. These infections are very painful to the child and quite bothersome to parents as well. Pacifier use may also cause problems with the teeth once they begin to show. Tooth problems generally only occur with prolonged use of the binky. Your child should not be offered a pacifier once he reaches two years of age, but it is a good idea to take it away well in advance of this stage.

Consider both the pros and cons of pacifier use to determine whether it is something that you want to offer your little one. Each family is different, and what is right for their family may certainly not be right for yours.

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 she’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 before a nap. (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 her crib. She could strangle in the cord or ribbon. It’s safe to attach the pacifier to her 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

Do not 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 is 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 is not gaining enough weight, a binky probably will not 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 do not 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?

Sucking on a pacifier well into the childhood years might threaten proper dental development, but your child probably won’t be at it for that long. During the years when your child is likely to be using a pacifier, she has only her baby teeth. Permanent teeth generally start appearing by age 6.

While your child is unlikely to damage her teeth, jaw, or bite if she stops using a pacifier by the time she’s 2 or 3 years old, using a pacifier beyond age 3 may cause problems. The risk of improper dental development increases the longer your child uses a pacifier, too. If you ever become concerned about this, ask your baby’s doctor or dentist to check that your child’s jaw and teeth are doing fine.