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Pros and Cons of Using a Pacifier

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 09, 2021

For many parents, a pacifier tops the list of must-have items for a new baby. Babies naturally have the desire to suck since it's the motion they use for nursing or taking a bottle. 

A pacifier does exactly what the name implies – it serves to pacify and comfort your baby. But how much should your baby depend on a pacifier — and is it safe at all? Here’s the breakdown of the pros and cons of pacifiers and their safety concerns. 

Pros of Using a Pacifier

Pacifiers are popular for a reason. They can bring your baby comfort, help them sleep, and even reduce their risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Provides comfort. Your newborn is experiencing their senses all at once for the first time outside of the womb. Everything is unfamiliar, and this can feel overwhelming for your baby. Of course, the sound and feel of mom and dad will be comforting, but your baby sometimes needs more than a smiling, familiar face.

A pacifier is a great way to provide comfort for your baby and give you a little break as well. A pacifier offers your baby the chance to suckle, one of the first self-soothing tools your baby can enjoy.

Reduces the risk of SIDS. SIDS is the leading cause of death in babies under one year of age. Studies have shown that using a pacifier reduces the risk of SIDS during sleep. This will not only help your baby, but also give you some peace of mind at night knowing that your baby is safer while sleeping.

Helps baby fall asleep. While a pacifier may not improve the quality of your baby's sleep, it may help them fall asleep faster. Whether bottle-fed or breastfed, your baby has the innate desire to suck. Breastfeeding infants often want to nurse when falling asleep because it's comforting.

Offering a pacifier may allow you to lay your baby down to fall asleep alone without rocking or nursing for comfort. If your baby’s pacifier falls out during sleep, you don’t have to put it back in their mouth unless they wake up crying for it.

Cons of Using a Pacifier

While a pacifier offers your baby — and you — some much-needed comfort, there are some downsides to relying on one:

Nipple confusion. If you choose to breastfeed, it's important to wait to introduce a pacifier until nursing is well established. Your baby uses a different suckling technique when using a pacifier or bottle versus nursing at the breast. 

Suckling on the pacifier is much easier than breastfeeding, which requires more effort and a particular technique to draw milk from the breast. If you introduce a pacifier too soon, it can negatively impact your breastfeeding relationship. Your baby may grow to prefer the pacifier, turning away from nursing because of the effort it requires. 

Dental development. Most babies don’t have teeth yet, but it's important to remember that use of a pacifier can impact the alignment of teeth when they do begin to come in. If possible, plan to discontinue the pacifier before it has too much of an impact on your baby’s teeth. While some babies are born with their first teeth, most start teething at around six months.

If your baby develops an overbite as a result of pacifier use, you may need to invest in braces later on in life. Some babies will suck their thumb if a pacifier isn’t available, which has similar impacts on dental development.

Choking. Be sure to choose a pacifier with a base that's at least one and a half inches across. This size prevents your baby from getting the pacifier stuck in their mouth or throat. Additionally, look for a pacifier that has ventilation holes in the base just in case it ever gets trapped in your baby's mouth.

Make sure the pacifier is one complete piece. If your baby sucks hard enough on a two-piece pacifier, it may come apart and pose a choking risk. Since pacifiers degrade over time, make sure you check them regularly for durability, and buy more as needed. If the pacifier material becomes weak and breaks off, your baby could swallow a piece of it. 

Breaking the Pacifier Habit

Many children will give up their pacifiers easily with a little encouragement. Follow these tips for an easy transition:

  • Avoid using harsh words, teasing, or punishment that can upset your child.
  • Once you begin trying to break the habit of using a pacifier, praise your baby's efforts.
  • Implement a sticker chart to track your baby's progress. 
  • If your child uses fingers for sucking, distract them or keep their hands busy throughout the day.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Healthy Children: “Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking,” “Pacifier Safety.” 

Kid’s Health: “Sleep and Your Newborn.” 

La Leche League International: “Nipple Confusion.”

NHS: "Baby teething symptoms."

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