Pacifiers: Benefits and Risks

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Why do some babies want to suck on a pacifier?

Sucking is a natural instinct in babies. Some babies will suck their thumb or fingers, while other babies like to suck on a pacifier. In older children, pacifiers may be a form of security or comfort.

What are some of the benefits of using a pacifier?

Pacifiers can be soothing for babies. If your baby is cranky or fussy, a pacifier may help him or her calm down. It may also relax your baby to help him or her fall asleep.

Pacifiers may also help soothe your baby during common medical procedures, such as when he or she gets an immunization (also called a shot) or a blood test.

Sucking on a pacifier may lower your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, if he or she uses it at naptime and bedtime.

What are some of the risks of using a pacifier?

If a baby is given a pacifier too soon, he or she may have trouble learning to breastfeed properly. It is probably best to wait to use a pacifier until your baby has learned how to breastfeed well and is at least 1 month of age.

A baby who needs a pacifier to fall asleep may wake up many times during the night until he or she is old enough to put the pacifier back in when it falls out of his or her mouth.

Babies who use a pacifier may be more likely to develop middle ear infections. Also, regular pacifier use after 2 years of age may cause problems with your child's teeth. These problems are more likely if your child uses a pacifier after he or she is 4 years of age.

Pacifiers have germs on them and can make your baby sick if they are not washed frequently.

What should I know before giving my baby a pacifier?

  • Pacifiers seem to be most helpful in children younger than 6 months of age. The risks of pacifier use may increase after a child is 2 years of age.
  • Never force your baby to use a pacifier. If it comes out during sleep and your child doesn’t notice, don't put it back in.
  • Don't put anything on the pacifier (such as sugar) to get your child to use it.
  • Pacifiers should be cleaned and replaced often. Make sure to buy 1-piece pacifiers that are dishwasher-safe. Two-piece pacifiers can be a choking hazard.
  • Choose a pacifier that has a shield that is wider than your child’s mouth and has air holes in it.
  • Never tie a pacifier around your baby’s neck or attach it to his or her crib. Doing so puts your baby at risk for strangulation.
  • When your baby is fussy or upset, try other soothing methods before offering a pacifier. These include changing positions, rocking him or her gently, or singing softly. Before offering a pacifier, check to see if your baby’s diaper is dirty or if he or she is hungry.
  • Your doctor can help you decide when your child should stop using a pacifier. Consider stopping when your baby is 6 months to 1 year of age. Pacifier use is not recommended for children older than 4 years of age.

Source

Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers by Sumi Sexton, MD, and Ruby Natale, PhD, PsyD (American Family Physician April 15, 2009, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20090415/681.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/11
Created: 09/09

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