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Pacifiers: In or Out?

By Rachel Reiff Ellis
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD

Parents have relied on pacifiers for ages to calm crying infants. But are they really right for your baby? Here’s a look at the plusses and pitfalls.

Pacifier Pros

Some of the good things pacifiers can do for your baby -- and you -- include:

  • Lower risk of SIDS. Pacifier use during naps or nighttime can prevent sudden infant death syndrome. Doctors aren’t sure how it works, but if you give your baby a pacifier while she’s asleep, you might lower her risk of SIDS by more than half.
  • Satisfy the suck reflex. Babies have a natural need to suck. The bottle or breast usually meets this need, but the desire can linger even after the belly is full. A pacifier can help. Just be sure it doesn’t replace mealtime.
  • Encourage baby to self-soothe. Pacifiers can help babies learn to control their feelings, relax them, and make them feel secure. The comfort factor can be a double win: A calmer baby can mean calmer parents.

Binky’s Bad Side

There are strikes against pacifiers, too:

  • Nipple know-how. Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it may take a while for you or your baby to get the hang of it. If you nurse your infant, hold off on the pacifier for the first few weeks -- that gives time for your milk to come in, and for both of you to get in a good nursing pattern. That way, your baby won't start to prefer pacifiers over the nipple. After that, studies show no link between pacifier use and breastfeeding troubles.
  • Ear problems. According to one study, children who use pacifiers are almost twice as likely to get multiple ear infections as children who don’t.
  • Tooth troubles. Some parents wonder if a pacifier will affect their kid’s pearly whites. Just make sure your baby doesn't use them long term, experts say. “Before age 2, any problems with growing teeth usually self-correct within 6 months of stopping pacifier use,” says Evelina Weidman Sterling, PhD, MPH, co-author of Your Child's Teeth: A Complete Guide for Parents.

After the 2-year mark, problems can start. Your baby's top or bottom front teeth may slant or tilt, Sterling says. And the problem can worsen as time goes on.

“Pacifier use after age 4, which is when permanent teeth start to come in, can have major long-lasting effects on adult teeth,” she says.

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