Do babies really need pacifiers?

Pacifiers
Pacifiers are most helpful for babies younger than 6 months of age. However, they come with their benefits and flaws.

The sucking reflex is perhaps one of the most important survival skills a baby is born with. Babies learn to suck when they are in the womb. Sucking helps the baby get nutrition apart from comforting them. Some babies love to suck their fingers or thumbs, whereas some enjoy sucking pacifiers. Available in several colors and designs, pacifiers are probably one of the most alluring accessories you could buy for your baby. Pacifiers are most helpful for babies younger than 6 months of age. However, they come with their benefits and flaws.

What are the benefits of pacifiers for newborns?

Besides making the baby look super adorable, pacifiers also help to do the following:

  • Soothe a fussy baby: Sucking on a pacifier may help calm the baby. This may be particularly useful at night or when you are in a public place.
  • A baby to fall asleep: Pacifiers may come to the rescue when you are having a hard time getting your baby to sleep.
  • Provide temporary distractions: If you are taking your baby for a medical checkup or vaccination, carrying a pacifier may help distract your baby while the health care professional vaccinates, examines, or collects blood samples from your baby.
  • Reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Experts suggest that if your baby sucks on a pacifier during sleep, their sleep is lighter. This may lower the risk of SIDS for your baby.
  • Protect against earache during a flight: It is advised to feed your baby during take-off and landing to reduce the risk of earaches. Sucking on the pacifier does the same job, especially if your baby isn't hungry or is asleep.

Besides, it may be an easier habit to wean off. If your child is addicted to sucking their thumb or fingers, you may find a hard time stopping them beyond a certain age. You can, however, just throw away a pacifier to help your baby break the habit.

Avoid fluffy, loose bedding in your baby's crib.

SIDS Prevention Tips

There is currently no way to predict which infants are at risk for SIDS. SIDS has links to certain infant-specific and sleep-environment factors. Therefore, observing the following precautions has reduced the risk of SIDS for many infants.

  • Sleep position and the local sleep environment: Educate babysitters, daycare providers, grandparents, and everyone who cares for your baby about SIDS risk and the importance of observing the latest advice related to safe infant sleep offered in the original "Back to Sleep" campaign and updated in the recent "Safe to Sleep" initiative. Safe to Sleep (http://www.nichd.nih.gov/SIDS/Pages/sids.aspx) messages highlight the importance of the back sleep position with emphasis on safety surrounding the infant sleep environment and safe sleep conditions:
    • Back to sleep: You should place your baby on his or her back to sleep at night and nap time.
      • You should avoid fluffy, loose bedding in your baby's sleep area.
      • Keep your baby's face clear of coverings.
      • Be careful not to overheat your baby by overdressing or adding unnecessary covers.
      • Don't allow anyone to smoke around your baby.
      • Use a firm mattress in a safety-approved crib with a tight-fitting sheet. Avoid the use of infant positioning devices.
      • Have your baby sleep in your room (room-share) for the first 6 to 12 months of life.
      • Do not allow your baby to sleep alongside (bed-share with) another person. The risk of unintentional smothering is too great.
      • Keep all "well-child" appointments, including immunizations.

What are the risks of pacifiers?

  • Pacifiers may interfere with your child’s breastfeeding. This is especially a risk in babies less than 1 month of age. Hence, it is better to avoid giving a pacifier to a baby until they have learned to breastfeed well, which is generally when the baby is around a month old. Also, before giving the pacifier to calm your baby, ensure that the baby is not hungry. If so, feed the baby instead.
  • Pacifiers may cause dental problems when children continue to use them after their second birthday. Hence, just as the time of introducing your baby to pacifiers is important, so is the time to wean them off pacifiers.
  • Pacifiers may cause infections, including ear infections. You must make sure that you wash your baby's pacifier frequently.
  • Pacifiers may cause choking hazards, especially when they have loose parts as seen in two-piece pacifiers. Use a one-piece pacifier that comes with a protective shield wider than your baby’s mouth. The shield must have a hole in it. Do not use a ribbon or any tie with the pacifier because it may accidentally strangle the baby.

SLIDESHOW

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Pacifier do's and don'ts in newborns

To summarize, pacifiers are relatively safe when used properly.

  • Pacifiers must not be used as a quick fix every time to calm your baby.
  • Check whether your baby is hungry or has a dirty diaper.
  • Tend to those needs first before giving a pacifier to the baby.
  • Always try calming your baby by holding, rocking, or singing to them. This will help strengthen your bond with the baby and make them calmer, more confident, and happier.
  • Do not force your baby to use a pacifier.
  • Do not add honey, juice, or jelly to the pacifier to lure your baby into using it.
  • Doctors generally advise caregivers to wean their child off pacifiers by 6-12 months of age.
  • Keep it clean by boiling pacifiers or running them through the dishwasher
  • Keep it safe by replacing pacifiers often and using the appropriate size for your baby's age
  • Do not give a pacifier to a child over 4 years of age. The risks of pacifier use begin to outweigh the benefits as the baby gets older. Most kids between ages 2-4 stop using pacifiers on their own. Consult your pediatrician or dentist for help if your child has difficulty giving up the pacifier.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/11/2022
References
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Pacifiers: Benefits and Risks." <https://familydoctor.org/pacifiers-benefits-and-risks/>.