New guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics say yes. Here are the pros and cons, plus tips about safe pacifier use.
Babies are born wanting to suck. Some even suck their thumbs or fingers before they're born. Beyond nutrition, sucking is often an important method of self-soothing - a comforting, familiar and
calming mechanism in a new world.
That's why many parents rank pacifiers as must haves, right up there with diaper wipes and onesies. But are pacifiers really OK for your baby? Although the answer to that question is often
debated, new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics give pacifiers the green light throughout baby's first year.
For some babies, pacifiers are the key to contentment between feedings. Consider the advantages:
- A pacifier may soothe a fussy baby. Some babies are happiest when they're sucking on something.
- Pacifiers offer temporary distraction. When your baby's hungry, a pacifier may buy you a few minutes to prepare a bottle or find a comfortable spot to nurse. A pacifier also may come in handy
during shots, blood tests or other procedures.
- A pacifier may help your baby go to sleep. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick.
- A pacifier may help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Researchers have found an association between pacifier use at nap time and bedtime and a reduced risk of SIDS.
- They're disposable. When it's time to stop using pacifiers, you can throw them away. If your baby prefers to suck on his or her thumb or fingers, it may be more difficult to break the habit.
Of course, pacifiers have pitfalls as well. Consider the drawbacks:
- Early pacifier use may interfere with breast-feeding. Sucking on a breast is different than sucking on a pacifier or bottle. Some babies have trouble learning how to nurse properly if they're
given a pacifier too soon.
- Your baby may become dependent on the pacifier. If your baby uses a pacifier to sleep, you may face frequent middle-of-the-night crying spells when the pacifier falls out of your baby's mouth.
- Pacifier use may increase the risk of middle ear infections. Ear infections are most common in children younger than age 3. However, rates of middle ear infections are generally lowest during
the first six months of life - when the risk of SIDS is the highest.
If you choose to offer your baby a pacifier, keep these tips in mind.
- Wait until breast-feeding is well established. Be patient. It may take a few weeks or more to settle into a regular nursing routine. If you're breast-feeding, the American Academy of
Pediatrics recommends waiting to introduce a pacifier until your baby is 1 month old.
- Let your baby set the pace. If your baby's not interested in the pacifier, try again later - or skip it entirely. Don't force the issue.
- Choose the one-piece, dishwasher-safe variety. Some pacifiers have been recalled due to the risk of breaking into two pieces, which poses a choking hazard.
- The shape and firmness is up to you - or your baby.
- Buy extras. Once you've settled on a favorite, keep a few identical backups on hand. Many babies refuse a substitute pacifier.
- Keep it clean. Before you use a new pacifier, wash it with soap and water. To keep fungus at bay, soak your baby's pacifier in equal parts white vinegar and water for a few minutes a day.
Allow the pacifier to air dry thoroughly before returning it to your baby. Resist the temptation to "rinse" the pacifier in your own mouth - you'll only spread more germs to your baby.
- Watch for signs of deterioration. Replace pacifiers often. A worn or cracked nipple can tear off and pose a choking hazard.
- Use caution with pacifier clips. Never use a string or strap long enough to get caught around your baby's neck.
- Let sleeping babies lie. If the pacifier falls out of your baby's mouth while he or she is sleeping, don't pop it back in.
- Try other ways to calm your baby. Don't use a pacifier as a first line of defense. Sometimes a change of position or a rocking session may be all that's needed. If your baby is hungry, offer
the breast or a bottle.
- Know when to pull the plug. Most kids stop using pacifiers on their own between ages 2 and 4. If you're concerned about your child's pacifier use, consult his or her doctor for suggestions.
The decision to use a pacifier - or not - is up to you. Let go of any guilt or pressure as you learn what works best for your baby.