The Advantages and Disadvantages of Pacifiers

Pacifiers may be the must-have soothing item in your new baby’s life.  Many babies (and their parents) find pacifiers magnificently calming and the best fix for an anxious infant.  Or, it may be the bane of your existence as it can interfere with breastfeeding or your baby may become too dependent on it.  There are many advantages and disadvantages of pacifiers that parents should know before deciding whether or not to use them.

Advantages of Pacifiers

The Advantages and Disadvantages of PacifiersBabies have an innate desire to suck.  This natural reflex is why babies are so good at breastfeeding.  Their instinct is to find something soft and smooth to latch onto and suck away.  Some babies have an insatiable desire to suck, which is where pacifiers come in handy.  This non-nutritive sucking prop can replace the breast between feedings to help keep babies soothed and calm…indeed pacified.  Pacifiers help babies learn to comfort themselves without needing a parent to rock, feed or sing to them.  Babies often fall asleep with pacifiers because they are so relaxed.  Calm and rested babies make parenting easier and reduce stress in the household.

Studies also indicate that the use of pacifiers reduces risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  Researchers are not exactly sure why, but SIDS is most prevalent under the age of six months when pacifier sucking is highest.  Pacifiers are also useful for stabilizing ear pressure such as on a flight.  And they can be distracting when a baby needs a shot, blood test or other medical probing.

Disadvantages of Pacifiers

Pacifiers have their downside too.  Sometimes pacifiers interfere with breastfeeding because the act of sucking on a pacifier is different than a real nipple.  This confusion can lead to frustration, giving up on breastfeeding or not meeting goals to exclusively breastfeed.  Many experts recommend holding off on introducing a pacifier until three or four weeks after birth when breastfeeding is solidified.  At this point the baby can recognize how to suck differently on the pacifier vs. the breast.

Some babies become too dependent on pacifiers and cannot function without them.  Early in infancy a baby cannot put a pacifier back in his own mouth if it falls out so parents may be left to constantly replace the pacifier, even in the middle of the night.  It’s important for babies to eventually learn how to soothe themselves without props.  Additionally, pacifier usage is linked to higher rates of inner ear infections and can cause dental problems if used well into toddlerhood.

Tips for Pacifiers

If you give the pacifier a go, be sure to select a silicone option.  Keep it clean by running it through the dishwasher and replace it often as cracked pacifiers breed bacteria.  Try to hold off on introducing the pacifier until a breastfeeding relationship has been established.  Don’t force the pacifier.  Rather let your baby decide when and if he needs it.  Also, try other soothing methods before resorting to a pacifier every time your baby is fussy.  Music, rocking, bouncing and breastfeeding may pacify your baby just as well as the pacifier itself.  Have a dialogue with your pediatrician about when to pull the plug on the pacifier before extreme dependency and dental issues may occur.