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Should You Use a Pacifier? The Pros and Cons of Pacifiers

Dummy, paci, binky – The pacifier has many names, and it comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Every parent has a different pet name for the pacifier. This cherished baby accessory is beloved by infants and a source of intense debate for parents. Should you use a pacifier, or avoid them completely?

Pacifiers have been making headlines this week. Ever since a photographer snapped a photo of Suri Cruise, the almost five-year-old daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, walking around with her binky in her mouth.

What are the pros and cons of pacifier use? And when should you start weaning your children off the binky?

The issue surrounding pacifier use isn’t as black and white as you might think. Some parents absolutely love the pacifier, while other moms and dads think they should be banished from the face of the earth. Before making your own decision, you need to weigh the pros and cons of pacifier use.

Benefits of Pacifier Use: The Pros

Ask any mom who has gotten a moment of peace after giving her inconsolable baby a pacifier, and she’ll tell you exactly why she loves them. Here are the top three reasons why you should consider using a pacifier.

1. Pacifiers Satisfy the Suck Reflex.

Babies have a natural instinct to suck. While in the womb, some babies like to suck their thumbs and fingers. The sucking reflex is important when it comes to breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. But beyond their nutritional needs, sucking has a soothing, calming effect on babies. Sucking makes infants feel secure and happy, and it helps them learn about the world around them.

2. Using a Pacifier Helps Baby Self-Soothe

Some infants are happiest when they have something to suck on – whether this is their thumb or a pacifier. The act of sucking releases chemicals in the baby’s brain that decrease his stress level. (Yes, babies can feel stressed.)

Giving a fussy or colicky baby a pacifier can comfort and soothe him. It may also help your baby fall asleep.

When a baby doesn’t have a pacifier, he can self-soothe using his fingers or thumb. Finger and thumb sucking can become lasting habits that damage teeth if they’re allowed to continue when your child’s permanent teeth come in. Although it can be difficult to break a pacifier habit, it’s much harder to get your child to stop sucking his thumb.

3. Pacifier Use Protects Against SIDS

One of the major reasons you should consider using a pacifier is that it protects babies against SIDS – sudden infant death syndrome. In fact, researchers have found a link between pacifier use and a reduced risk of SIDS. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents offer their baby a pacifier when napping or going to sleep. (If the pacifier falls out after your baby falls asleep, don’t place it back in your child’s mouth.)

If you’re breastfeeding, you will want to wait until your baby is one month old before giving him a binky. Pacifier use under one month can interfere with breastfeeding success.

Researchers aren’t exactly sure why using a pacifier lowers the risk of SIDS, but a leading theory is that babies who suck on a pacifier may not sleep as deeply, and they can wake up more easily. Another theory suggests that the pacifier keeps the oral airway open since it pushes the tongue forward. This makes it easier for your baby to get the oxygen he needs.

The Negatives of Pacifier Use: The Cons

Pacifiers aren’t for everyone, and breastfeeding mothers might not be such fans of these baby accessories. Here are the cons of pacifier use, and why you might want to avoid using a pacifier completely.

1. Early Pacifier Use Can Interfere with Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby, since it’s full of antibodies, nutrients, vitamins, and fats in all the right amounts. Unfortunately, breastfeeding isn’t always the easiest. When a baby is introduced to a pacifier too soon, he may have difficulty learning how to breastfeed properly. After all, sucking on a breast is different than sucking on a pacifier or a bottle.

Introducing the pacifier to your baby too soon may reduce stimulation from suckling, which will gradually decrease your breast milk product. For this reason, doctors recommend that breastfeeding mothers wait until the baby is latching on and nursing well before introducing the pacifier. This process often takes three to four weeks.

2. Baby May Become Too Dependent on the Pacifier

One of the downsides of your baby using a pacifier for comfort is that he may become too attached to his binky. Your baby can get so obsessed with his pacifier that he cries in the middle of the night when the pacifier falls out. Your child may not be able to fall asleep on his own without his paci.

When it’s time to break the pacifier habit, this can cause you a ton of stress. Fortunately, not all babies get this attached to their pacifier. It’s simple to wean some children off the pacifier, and it’s harder for others.

3. Pacifier Use is Linked to Higher Ear Infections

Using a pacifier may reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), but it’s associated with an increase in ear infections. In a study reported in the journal Pediatrics, pacifier use lead to 40 percent more ear infections. Researchers don’t know why pacifiers increase ear infections, but it may be related to the change in pressure between the middle ear and upper throat.

Interestingly, children who stopped using a pacifier regularly after they reach six months old experience one-third fewer middle ear infections than babies who still use pacifiers.

Keep this in mind: Rates of middle ear infections are generally their lowest between birth and six months old – the same time frame when the SIDS risk is the highest.

(Just some food for thought: exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months will decrease the risk of ear infections.)

4. Prolonged Pacifier Use May Cause Dental Problems

Normal pacifier use in the first few years of your child’s life won’t cause any long-time dental problem. However, if your child is still using a pacifier when the front top teeth come in, this can cause the teeth to slant outward, or not come in correctly.

Dental problems can also occur when a child uses pacifiers for a long time during the day, over many months. The risk of dental problems is greater when the pacifier has been dipped in sugar or sweets. Dental problems include cavities, crooked teeth, and gum recession.

Pacifier Weaning – When Should You Get Rid of the Binky?

Using a pacifier has pros and cons, and only you can decide if a binky is right for you. But one of the most important aspects of pacifier use is knowing when to wean your child off the binky.

Some pediatricians suggest that you start banishing the pacifier between nine and twelve months old. Others may recommend that you aim to stop pacifier use by the time your child is 18 months old. The choice is up to you.

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • Amber March 7, 2013, 5:40 pm

    My son held on to his binky like it was a lifeline! We actually started out by only giving it to him during naps and when he was real fussy, but as time went on, he seemed to want it more (it went from a suckle need, to a want). My mom found the bye bye binky method (www.bye-bye-binky.com), printed it and suggested that we go with it. At first I was a bit mad at my mom, but I soon got over it. The method worked amazingly well. My son stopped sucking on it after 4 days! He proceeded to carry it around for another week, but never put it in his mouth. He then got tired of carrying it and simply lost interest. Mom was right, it worked, highly recommended!

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  • Emily June 8, 2011, 4:00 pm

    I’ve been reading up on all baby care issues because I’m expecting my 3rd child next month and I know I’ve forgotten SO much in the past 3 years! I’ve actually been hoping for a pacifier baby because my first 2 kids were such thumb sucking fanatics. Not an easy habit to break because their thumbs are always attached!! And I’ve seen how much damage their thumb sucking has done to their teeth. And in case you could use some good tooth care tips for babies & kids of all ages, I’ve found this Mom’s Guide to have some helpful tips. Thanks for this post. I found it to be helpful… and I also cringed at the photo. Yikes!

  • Angela S. March 19, 2011, 3:53 am

    This is my first time checking out your blog. I’ll be a new follower. I have 2 young children and I’m passionate about pregnancy and birth.

  • AW March 16, 2011, 8:11 pm

    I think the whole SIDS thing is a bunch of crap developed by doctors to help parents feel better about the sleeping choices of their children. Personally in every SIDS case I have read (and I have done PLENTY of research) the children were too close to the bumpers, the bumpers were over stuffed, they had blankets over their faces, or the bedding was too soft. Personally the children are straight up suffocating not dieing suddenly! Before I get attacked YES I do have personal experience with it, my best friends baby died of SIDS and guess what. She had a custom made 3 inch thing bumper in the crib and she let her baby sleep face pointing into it. SIDS=hobunkJUNK.

    • DP March 16, 2011, 8:25 pm

      Well, you know crib bumpers are under a lot of scrutiny these days. They’re cute but they can be dangerous, if babies suffocate on them. The Consumer Product Safety Commission – the government agency that does all the product recalls and pulls dangerous products off the market – is actually investigating into the safety of crib bumpers and whether or not they’re safe for children. It’s a good point you bring up.

  • krystal March 16, 2011, 2:59 pm

    both of my boy only liked it for a couple weeks than wanted nothing to do with them. I’m fine with that.

    • DP March 16, 2011, 7:46 pm

      That’s good. Not all babies get attached to pacifiers, and some don’t even like them. All babies are different, just like people 🙂

  • Lady Estrogen March 16, 2011, 1:35 pm

    My boys didn’t want anything to do with theirs – and although there were nights when I really, really wished they did, it was one less thing I had to ween them off of. I understand that parenting is different for everyone and to each their own, but the first time I say that photo of Suri, I cringed.

    • DP March 16, 2011, 7:47 pm

      Five is a little old to have a pacifier. Strange I think. But who knows? Maybe she is coddled too much.

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