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How to Use a Pacifier

Pacifiers help parents and babies get through periods of crying when the baby is either not hungry or too full to eat but still needs the comfort that sucking provides. Pacifiers can be very helpful to parents in those early months. Pacifiers help babies soothe themselves during periods of crying. Here are some things to think about as you are deciding if and when to use a pacifier.

Pros and cons

Here are some possible benefits and drawbacks of pacifier use as you are deciding on what is best for your baby.

Possible benefits of a pacifier:

  • Pacifiers can soothe a crying baby.

  • Reduced crying can help a parent’s frayed nerves.

  • When a baby is nursing or sucking on a pacifier, it can help reduce pain.

  • Pacifiers can shorten hospital stays and help tube-fed babies learn to use a bottle for premature babies in the intensive care unit.

  • Pacifiers reduce the risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

It's advised that you delay introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding is well set. It's safe to introduce the pacifier when:

  • Your baby has returned to their birth weight

  • You are comfortable getting your baby latched onto the breast

  • You aren't concerned about your milk supply

This is usually when your baby is about 3 to 4 weeks old for most nursing parents. You can introduce a pacifier right after your baby is born if you have chosen to feed your infant formula.

Possible cons of a pacifier:

  • Affects the formation of the teeth, so that they don’t meet correctly. This is especially so when used in children older than age 2

  • May increase the possibility of ear infection

  • May create breastfeeding difficulties, especially if introduced before breastfeeding is well set

Pacifiers may hide feeding cues in breastfeeding babies. Feeding cues are ways that your baby tells you that they are hungry. Eventually, this can affect your milk supply. This will increase the chances that you will need to supplement with formula.

How to choose a pacifier

Store display racks carry a confusing selection of pacifiers. It may help to know that manufacturers say there are basically two types: orthodontic and nonorthodontic. An orthodontic design is meant to imitate a natural nipple and to accommodate the baby’s “tongue thrust.” This is the motion that pulls milk from the nursing parent's breast. The nipple tip is typically flatter and square-shaped. Nonorthodontic pacifiers are the older style. These have the uniform bulb tip.

Most pacifiers are made either with latex, silicon rubber, or soft plastic. Silicon is a good choice because this material is smoother and harbors fewer germs.

Simple rules

Follow these tips for pacifier use:

  • Make sure the pacifier is a one-piece pacifier when possible.

  • Don't use pacifiers with built-in gadgets, moving parts, or liquid interiors.

  • Use pacifiers that have sealed rather than open bases.

  • Never hang the pacifier on a string around the baby’s neck, hand, or crib

  • Don't dip the pacifier in sugar, honey, corn syrup, or other sugary materials.

  • Clean the pacifier regularly. Boiling is recommended for pacifiers if the baby is younger than age 6 months. An automatic dishwasher will do an adequate job of cleaning it. Remove any water that gets in the nipple.

  • Replace the pacifier if it becomes damaged, the plastic starts to crack, or the surface breaks down into small pieces.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about how and when to wean your baby from the pacifier when your child is 1 year old.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Mahammad Juber MD
  • Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
  • Tracy C. Garrett RNC-NIC BSN