An artificial nipple designed for infants to suck, and which has a soothing effect.
Infants have a strong desire to suck, which may not be entirely fulfilled while feeding. Both the newborn and older infant are often soothed by sucking. Some babies suck their thumbs, while others take readily to a pacifier.
Pacifiers are often most effective in the child's first few months, when colic and fussiness are at their peak. Many babies who like pacifiers early on will spit them out when they become five or six months old, as the need for sucking lessens.
Pacifiers come in several different types. The shape of the nipple may be long, short, with a ball-shaped end, or flattened. There seems to be no evidence that one shape is better than another, but a baby may prefer one type. A tiny pacifier may be appropriate for a low-birth weight or premature baby. It is important that the nipple be firmly attached to the shield, so that it cannot come off and possibly choke a child. The shield should be large enough so that the child cannot get the whole pacifier into his or her mouth. When a baby is teething, parents should check the pacifier nipple for damage since it can be torn by emerging teeth. Many parents hang the pacifier on a string around the child's neck to prevent it from dropping or getting lost. This will keep the pacifier clean as well, but the string presents a danger if the child gets entangled in it. A child should never wear a pacifier on a string to bed.
There may be some disadvantages to using a pacifier. A baby who sucks on a pacifier at night may wake up crying several times during the night because the pacifier has fallen out of his or her mouth. Parents may need to encourage some alternate comfort at night. For a baby who is constantly quieted with a pacifier during the day, there may be a danger of the baby not getting adequate stimulation. That is, a baby who can be comforted with a pacifier might not be exposed to other methods of comfort, such as being held or taken for a walk. Some research has shown that babies display less exploratory visual behavior while sucking on a pacifier. That is, they look around less and may appear less alert. One recent study in England showed a correlation between pacifier use and lowered IQ scores. The researchers offered several hypotheses that might explain their finding. They reasoned that use of a pacifier may result in the baby receiving less mental stimulation and encouragement to learn and explore. A placid baby who is easily quieted with a pacifier gets less parental attention than a fussy child who challenges the parents to find other means to calm her. However, these are suggestions arising from a small body of research. There seems to be no evidence that use of a pacifier is itself directly harmful.
Biracree, Tom, and Nancy Biracree. The Parents' Book of Facts: Child Development From Birth to Age Five. New York Facts on File, 1989.
Driscoll, Jeanne. Taking Care of Your New Baby: A guide to Infant Care. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group, 1996.
Gale, Catharine R., and Christopher N. Martyn. "Breastfeeding, Dummy Use, and Adult Intelligence." The Lancet, April 20, 1996, pp. 1072-76.