All babies cry. But parents don’t all have the same methods to settle down their little ones. Is using a pacifier right for your baby? Pacifiers are linked with various effects on your baby’s health and feeding patterns. Here’s what you need to know.
Babies are hardwired to suck. Your newborn seeks out your nipple to breastfeed, sucks on a finger if offered, and will even try to latch onto your partner! Offering a pacifer has several benefits:
- Babies with pacifiers may cry less. Babies can spend hours a day wailing, which is stressful for you as well as your little one. Sucking is soothing, so your baby may be calmer.
- Pacifiers are linked with a lower rate of SIDS. The cause-and-effect relationship isn’t clear, and the SIDS Alliance has not officially recommended using pacifiers. But new parents may be on board to try any practice that’s associated with lower SIDS rates.
- Pacifiers may help premature babies gain weight. Some research indicates that preemies who used pacis got the hang of sucking patterns faster (after all, they got extra practice!) and gained weight faster (again, the better a baby can suck, the better feeding will go).
- Using a pacifier can give breastfeeding parents a break. Most people think about soothing the baby with a pacifier, but it’s important to remember that parents are people with needs, too. Babies who want to suck for comfort for extended periods of time can leave Mom’s nipples sore, and make it hard to make time for a shower or quick nap. It’s okay to use a substitute nipple to get a few minutes to yourself.
Before you pop a pacifier in your baby’s mouth, consider the potential downsides:
- Pacifiers may make nursing trickier for some babies. Breastfeeding parents often worry about “nipple confusion.” The term is a little misleading–your baby knows the difference between your breast and a silicone nipple–but it’s true that breastfeeding and pacifier sucking are different. The nipple position isn’t quite the same, so your baby uses different mouth actions (which can be painful applied to your nipple). Experts recommend waiting a month or so before introducing a paci, so breastfeeding technique and supply are well established.
- Pacifiers are linked with ear infections. The sucking causes fluid build-up in the ears, which can lead to infections. Younger babies are less prone to this, so planning to wean off pacifer use around 6 months can help.
- Pacifiers can cause dental problems. Your baby’s palate and teeth are developing, and having a piece of plastic in the way can interfere with tooth alignment. Another reason to have an end date in mind.
How to Use a Pacifer
On the fence about using a pacifier? Following these guidelines can minimize the potential negative effects so your baby soothes safely:
- Introduce the pacifier around 6 weeks if you’re nursing. This lets you strengthen the breastfeeding relationship first.
- Restrict paci use to bedtime. Sleeping with a pacifier may keep babies in a lighter sleep, which may be why they’re linked with lower SIDS rates. Offering milk or snuggles at other times keeps you from missing a hunger cue or encouraging the baby to depend on the binky to soothe.
- Wash the pacifier regularly. A daily soap-and-water cleaning keeps bacteria at bay (wash the pacifier when the baby drops it, too). In a pinch, you can use the common parenting trick and pop it in your mouth, but don’t rely on a spit-shine as your main cleaning method.
- Know when you’ll stop. Agree with your partner on an end date that makes sense (somewhere between 6-12 months is great). You may have to prepare for a few tough nights after you toss the pacifiers, but you can plan to support each other.