Should I give my Baby a Pacifier or Not?
It is estimated that “75 to 85 percent of children in Western countries use a pacifier” (Sexton & Natale).
But is there anything medically wrong with giving a baby a pacifier? Why do babies even like pacifiers? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Whether or not you introduce a pacifier into your baby’s life completely depends on how you feel about the answers to the above questions, which we’re going to explore in this article. In the end, there’s no real wrong or right answer.
The Benefits of Pacifiers
1) A pacifier satisfies a baby’s need to suck. “Nonnutritive sucking” is a natural reflex for fetuses and newborns. I’m sure we’ve all heard stories and many of us have actually seen in-utero pictures of babies sucking their thumb. Some babies have stronger sucking habits than others, but most – if not every – baby derives comfort from sucking and pacifiers can often provide that comfort in between feedings or while sleeping.
2) In preterm infants, pacifiers provide pain relief or have an analgesic affect through distraction and comfort, decrease length of hospital stay, allow earlier transition to bottle feeing from feeding tubes and improve bottle feeding performance.
3) In infants up to six months of age, pacifiers given at night time reduce the risk of SIDS. “SIDS is thought to result from an infant falling into too deep a sleep before his body has gained the ability to regulate its own arousal. Sucking on a pacifier while sleeping keeps the baby from sleeping as deeply, thus guarding against SIDS” (AHA! Parenting.com). Seven recent independent studies have shown a marked reduction in the incidents of SIDS in babies who use a pacifier.
4) When it comes time to wean or stop the habit, pacifiers can simply be thrown away, while a thumb is always present and harder to stop.
The Disadvantages of Pacifiers
1) The main disadvantage to pacifiers is in relation to breastfeeding. If you’re going to introduce a pacifier to your baby wait until he or she is 4 to 6 weeks old so as to establish good latching and feeding habits. A pacifier is much easier to suck on than a breast nipple and so the sucking action is a little different and can make baby lazy at feeding time. It can also lead to early weaning from breastfeeding, although observational studies have shown that pacifier use may not be a cause of early weaning, implying that there may have already been breastfeeding difficulties.
2) Between six months and two years of age, there is an increase in incidents of middle ear infections with babies who use a pacifier. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends that pacifier use between 6 and 12 months of age be reduced or stopped to minimize the risk. It is believed that reflux of mucus into the middle from sucking and breathing (Eustachian) tube dysfunction due to altered dental structure may be to blame for these infections (Sexton & Natale).
3) Beyond the age of 2, pacifier sucking can affect the development of the palate, which is quite soft in the early years, and the positioning of teeth as they come in, resulting in open bites (where the upper and lower front teeth don’t overlap creating an opening straight into the mouth) , cross bites (where “any or all of the upper teeth fit into the wrong side of the lower teeth”) or overjets (buck teeth) (WebMD).
4) Pacifiers can harbor bacteria such as candida and staphylococcus. Latex pacifiers were found to be more significantly colonized with bacteria than silicone pacifiers.
5) A study of more than 10,000 in the U.K. “evaluated pacifier use and finger sucking at 15 months of age and their association with infection at 18 months of age. The 36 percent of infants who used a pacifier had a higher incidence of ear ache and colic compared with the 40 percent of infants who did not suck and the 21 percent of infants who sucked fingers. The 2.7 percent of infants who sucked both a pacifier and fingers had more wheezing and earaches and poorer health in the month before the study … A direct link between illness and type of sucking habit could not be determined from this study” (Sexton & Natale).
Again, there is no wrong or right answer as to what is right or wrong for you and your baby. Every baby is different. Every baby’s sucking preferences and needs are different. This is probably one of those “try it and see if it works” type scenarios because nothing is guaranteed to work precisely the same way for everybody. It’s all a matter of trial and error and being aware of the risks and benefits.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
“Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers” by Sumi Sexton, MD & Ruby Natale, PhD. American Family Physician. Web Feb 23, 2012. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Apr 15;79(8):681-685.
Pacifiers: Are they good for your baby? Mayo Clinic. Web. Feb 23, 2012.
What’s Wrong with Pacifiers? Aha! Parenting.com. Web. Feb 23, 2012.
Type of Malocclusion – Topic Overview. WebMD. Web. Feb 23, 2012.