Parents on TV make it look so easy, don’t they? Baby cries, parent or caregiver sticks a pacifier in their mouth, and baby proceeds to happily suck away on it, silently observing the world around them with beautiful child-like wonder (and giving their parents a much-needed break).
The only problem is that it’s not quite so simple in real life. Some babies don’t take to pacifiers right away, and others can’t seem to keep the pacifier inside their mouth instead of spitting it out onto the crib mattress.
Wherever your baby stands on the topic of pacifiers, you might be strongly hoping they’ll be the type to take one, rather than crying at you while you try to shower or cook dinner.
We’re not saying it’s easy to convince a baby who doesn’t like pacis to come around, but we are saying there are some things you can do to try to change their minds.
You probably put a pack of pacifiers on your baby registry because of the sometimes-true-sometimes-not belief that they would keep your baby happy and quiet. But did you know there are actually some scientific benefits to using a pacifier?
Pacifiers soothe and distract
If you’re trying to prolong the time between feedings by a few minutes, a pacifier can soothe and distract your baby long enough to buy you a little extra time.
It can also help soothe your child at bedtime and distract them from physical pain. In fact, some pediatricians recommend using a pacifier for a baby undergoing a quick medical procedure like a blood draw.
Baby may sleep better and longer
Some babies have an intense need to suck that’s not related to their actual hunger, which can wake them up at night. Plus, some older babies demand nighttime feedings out of habit (i.e., they’re used to being fed when they wake up at night).
A pacifier may satisfy the need to suck when it’s not related to hunger, allowing your baby to sleep for slightly longer stretches at night once they’re old enough. It can also be a useful tool for night weaning.
Pacifiers may reduce the risk of SIDS
There’s been some debate over this point, with different studies showing conflicting evidence.
According to a 2005 research review, some researchers have found a correlation between bedtime pacifier use and lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.
Despite the results of this study, experts wrote in a
It’s important to note that there are other factors that may come into play — so it may not be the pacifier, or only the pacifier, that reduces the risk of SIDS.
Many pediatricians recommend offering your baby a pacifier at night to reduce the SIDS risk, but you don’t have to force it. If baby won’t take a pacifier or keep it in their mouth, that’s fine, too.
They can help with air travel
Pacifiers can be helpful if you need to fly with a young baby, since babies can’t pop their ears by flexing their jaw to release the pressure. So, sucking on a pacifier can reduce discomfort.
If you aren’t breastfeeding or chestfeeding, you can pretty much start using a pacifier right from the get-go. Yay, you!
But if you are nursing, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until your baby is 3 to 4 weeks old before introducing a pacifier. That’s is about how long it takes for breastfeeding to be fully established in most cases.
This way, you can rest assured that pacifier use won’t interfere with the feeding relationship between you and your baby (it’s called “nipple confusion” and, yes, it’s a thing).
Ready to see if your baby is amenable to the paci? Here are some ways to get — and keep — them interested.
Your little one won’t take the pacifier or spits it out immediately? Well, if someone shoved a foreign object into your mouth that tastes like plastic, you would probably spit it out, too!
Everything is new to babies, including pacifiers. So, it’s understandable that they may need a little time to accept this thing stuck into their mouth as a device for self-soothing.
Your baby may not take the pacifier on the first try… or the second try… or the tenth try, for that matter, but they could surprise you one day by taking it and refusing to let go. You won’t know unless you keep at it!
Introduce it “for fun”
You know when you’re upset and someone tells you to “just calm down” and it actually makes you even more rage-y? The same goes for babies when they’re crying hysterically and you offer them a pacifier.
In other words, don’t try to introduce it for the first time when your baby is upset; it’s more likely to confuse them than to be seen as something comforting. Instead, offer it when your baby is happy and calm — they’re more likely to be curious and willing to try something new this way.
(Later on, once baby is used to the pacifier and happy to take it, then you can use it to avoid inconvenient meltdowns.)
Offer after feedings
If you’re trying to introduce a pacifier when your baby is hungry, you’ll just frustrate them: They want food, not a piece of plastic. If you do this frequently enough, your infant will learn nothing good comes from that unappetizing nipple substitute and they’ll never want it.
But when you offer your baby the pacifier right after they’ve been fed, they’re not expecting it to feed them — and they’ll be relaxed and calm enough to think about taking it.
Coat it in breast milk or formula
If your baby seems to not know what they’re supposed to do with a pacifier, dipping it in a little bit of breast milk or formula can entice them to actually take it into their mouth.
Once it’s in, it may or may not stay put, but this is a good trick for babies who can’t quite figure out where the paci goes.
Pretend you’re breastfeeding
If your baby is a milk snob (i.e., only interested in your human nipples and not silicone-based ones), it can be tricky to get them interested in a pacifier. Why do they need a piece of plastic when they have you?
If this is your baby, you can try using your nipples as an introduction to the paci: As soon as they’re done feeding, swap in the pacifier in what’s called a good ol’ fashioned “bait and switch.” The quicker you do this, the less likely your baby will be to refuse the pacifier, since they won’t have time to realize what’s happening. Once the pacifier is in, it might just stay there.
You can also try enticing your little one to latch onto the pacifier by touching the side of their cheek, just like you do when you’re prompting them to start a feeding. When your baby turns toward the pacifier with their mouth open, just pop it right in and see what happens.
Try a million varieties
You have 25 coffee mugs but only one you actually drink out of, right? We all have oral preferences, including babies, so if your baby hates one pacifier that doesn’t mean they hate all pacifiers.
They might want a paci with a different shape (like round versus flat), one that sits higher or lower on their mouth, or one that’s made entirely of flexible silicone instead of hard plastic. You might have gone through this routine if your baby is bottle fed, as you tried to find the exact right bottle and nipple combo for your baby’s unique preferences.
As long as the pacifiers you’re buying are safe for your baby’s age, you can try a variety of options to see which your little one likes best. And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t give up on the paci completely if your baby has tried — and rejected — only one style.
Use reverse psychology
Lastly, in a glimpse into your parenting future, you can try a little reverse psychology to get your baby to do what you want and think it’s their idea.
If your baby is randomly spitting out the pacifier, you can tug on it gently once your baby has taken it into their mouth, as if you’re going to pull it out. Many babies will naturally put up some resistance to this sensation, and this encourages them to suck on it to keep it in their mouth.
Do this enough, and you’ll have taught your baby that a paci is worth hanging on to!
There’s an old saying that you can’t force a baby to poop, eat, or sleep. While that’s totally true, we would also add that you can’t force a baby to take a pacifier — nor should you.
Using a pacifier has some benefits, and it can be a huge convenience for parents, but it’s not a necessity. Your baby will be just fine if they never take a pacifier.
You, on the other hand, might have to get creative with alternative ways to distract and soothe your baby (and you have our sympathies for that). Take heart: At least a baby who never uses a pacifier won’t have to learn how to give one up when they’re older, either.
Some babies will never come around to the idea of using a pacifier, and that’s OK — it’s not a health risk if they don’t, so don’t push it.
At the same time, some babies like pacis right away and others need a little time to warm up to them.
Persistence is key if you really want your baby to take one. But if these tips and tricks haven’t worked for you after a few weeks of trying, you may want to throw in the towel and find other methods of self-soothing that work better for your baby.