As with most things related to newborns, using a pacifier can come with pluses and minuses. If your newborn is taking one (some don’t!), it’s probably their favorite go-to accessory. And while thoughts of braces in your baby’s future run through your head, you’re probably more than a little thrilled that it soothes their crying.
Ahh, enjoy that silence. But then worry pops back into your head because you wonder if this carefree sucking might be habit-forming or interfering with feedings.
Your baby loves the pacifier, but is it healthy?
Go ahead and pop that pacifier back into junior’s mouth. Not only is it super cute to see baby sucking away, the paci is also good for them — and you — in more ways than one.
Pacifiers have endless nicknames including soothers, dummies, binkies, soo soos, and buttons. But whatever you call them, you’re probably aware that pacifiers can bring joy to your little bundle of joy (read: more joy to you). As the names suggest, pacifiers help soothe and calm babies.
Sucking is a normal reflex in newborn babies. In fact, it begins even before birth. It helps your baby practice feeding from the breast or a bottle. Sucking without feeding — called non-nutritive sucking — is also natural for babies.
So pacifiers are popular for good reason. In Western countries, up to 75 percent of babies use binkies at some point.
There’s no right or wrong answer about how soon you should give your newborn a pacifier. But if you’re breastfeeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) generally recommends waiting until you and your baby have a nursing routine down pat. This may mean waiting up to four weeks for your baby to avoid nipple confusion.
What on earth is nipple confusion, and why didn’t they tell you about this in the hospital? Well, sucking on a nipple is different — clearly from your side of things, but also for baby — than sucking on a pacifier.
Some newborns may find it easier to suck on the pacifier. This can make it more difficult for them to latch on for breastfeeding. Or, they may use their energy to suck on the pacifier and then fall asleep or be less interested in breastfeeding when feeding time comes.
Breastfeeding can be even more difficult for preterm babies. This is because they may have smaller sucking muscles. Your nurse or doctor may recommend waiting to use a pacifier. However, every baby is different.
A 2013 AAP study suggested that offering pacifiers may help babies breastfeed only. The research followed babies in a newborn unit who were breastfed with and without also being offered pacifiers:
- Almost 79 percent of babies with pacifiers available were breastfed only without being given any formula feedings.
- By contrast, after restricting pacifiers, about 68 percent of babies breastfed only.
So, one theory is that pacifiers may help keep babies content and distracted between breastfeedings. Without them, some mothers may offer the bottle between breastfeeding sessions. But it’s hard to say conclusively, and more research is needed, so talk to your doctor.
If you baby is exclusively bottle-feeding from the start, you should be able to give a soothing pacifier right away.
Even if your little one isn’t crying, sucking a pacifier may help them fall asleep and stay asleep longer — which means more sleep for you, too.
What’s even better? Pacifiers are also linked to lowering the risk of sleep-related death in babies. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the most common cause of death in babies between 1 month and 1 year.
Several medical studies have found that giving your baby a pacifier while they sleep may be associated with a reduced risk of SIDS, possibly by more than half.
Medical organizations are taking note, too. The AAP’s safety guidelines against SIDS advises that pacifiers help even if they fall out after your baby nods off. So go ahead — pop the pacifier in your newborn’s mouth and rest a little easier.
Why do pacifiers make sense at night?
Pacifiers may help protect your baby from SIDS and suffocation during sleep for several reasons. They might make it harder for your baby to roll over onto their stomach. Tummy time is great under your watchful eye, but sleeping on the stomach is the riskiest position for SIDS.
A pacifier also blocks your baby’s face from accidently getting too close to the mattress, a pillow, or blanket. (That being said, your infant’s crib should be as empty as a florist shop the day after Valentine’s Day — no pillows, blankets, or stuffed animals inside it.)
Other researchers think that sucking on a pacifier might help babies develop better nerve reflexes and breathing muscles.
Give your baby their favorite pacifier as you lay them down (on their back) for sleep or a nap. If the pacifier falls out mid-sleep, it’s perfectly OK. If they wake up or cry, try popping the pacifier back in.
Pacifiers are as important as baby wipes — and arguably have just as many benefits. Keep a few on hand to give to your newborn: at home, in your car, and in your purse.
Rest assured that a pacifier is less habit-forming than sucking on a thumb, and habits are unlikely to form before 6 months of age, period.
During sleep and nap time, pacifiers help:
- babies fall asleep and stay asleep
- babies relax and self-soothe back to sleep if they wake up
Pacifiers may also help:
- prevent SIDS in newborns
- your baby exclusively breastfeed, if that’s what you want
- your baby stay content between feedings longer
Pacifiers help soothe and distract babies:
- during general fussiness
- from general anxiety or fear
- when they’re sick or colicky (heaven forbid, but it happens)
- when they’re getting a check-up or shots
- when they’re being bathed but before they take to the water
During flights and travel a pacifier may:
- help ease anxiety
- help relieve ear pain from air pressure changes
There are a few risks to keep in mind with pacifiers.
Nipple confusion can occur if a pacifier is used too soon, and your baby may:
- prefer the pacifier to latching onto your breast
- get tired and breastfeed for short periods only
They can also be habit-forming, but generally only over the age of 6 months. If this happens, your precious little one might:
- become dependent on a pacifier to self-soothe while awake
- wake up and cry if the pacifier falls out during sleep
Illness can also occur if the pacifier isn’t cleaned often and adequately. They may:
- spread germs
- increase the risk of ear infections (more common after the age of 6 months)
And finally, using a pacifier for too long can famously interfere with your baby’s incoming teeth. They can cause baby teeth to grow in slightly crooked.
Pacifier manufacturers have developed new shapes and sizes to combat this, and also keep in mind that baby teeth aren’t permanent. (The tooth fairy will be draining your pockets before you know it.)
- Use one-piece pacifiers that can’t come apart. This reduces the risk of choking.
- Look for pacifiers that are made from natural rubber and other safe materials.
- Avoid pacifiers that contain harmful chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA).
- Clean pacifiers by boiling in sterile water for a few minutes.
- It’s even OK to suck your baby’s pacifier clean sometimes — this might help prevent allergies later on.
When your baby (or toddler) starts using their pacifier as a chewing toy or teether, it might be time to wean him off of it. One sign that your baby is chewing the pacifier rather than sucking it is nonstop drool.
As with toilet-training, there are several different ways to cut the proverbial umbilical cord to baby’s pacifier. Try these tips to find out what works for your little one:
- take it away cold turkey (and brave the tantrums)
- give them the pacifier only at certain, consistent times — the slow and steady approach
- limit the pacifier to one place, such as their crib
- offer your child other ways to self-soothe — like a favorite blanket or toy
Pacifiers are safe for your newborn. When you give them one depends on you and your baby. You might prefer to have them practically come out of the womb with a pacifier and do just fine. Or it may be better to wait a few weeks, if they’re having trouble latching onto your breast.
Pacifiers have pros and cons. A very important benefit is that they are associated with lowering the risk of sleep-related deaths in newborns, especially babies under the age of 4 months.
As for the cons, you don’t have to worry about teething problems or ear infections due to pacifiers just yet if you have a newborn. Baby teeth begin to appear at about 6 months. Ear infections are also more common in babies at this age.
The AAP advises that its best to wean your baby off the beloved pacifier around the age of 1 year. Until then, enjoy every moment!