My son is two years old, and he is a pacifier addict. I try to limit pacifier use, but I’m pretty sure that he has stashed them in secret places around the house, just in case I try to take them away. I’m not planning on taking them away anytime soon though. In fact, I didn’t even consider taking them away until his pediatrician brought it up at his last well-baby checkup.
I truly value my pediatrician’s advice, but pacifier use, like many other baby-care-related-things, is a hotly debated topic. On one hand, I’ve been told that pacifier use can hamper a child’s language development and cause dental problems. On the other hand, I’ve heard that it can reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and help children sooth themselves at night. So are pacifiers a good thing or a bad thing? And what is the right way to use them? After reading what the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) had to say on the topic, here are the pros, cons and some current recommendations for pacifier use.
Pros of pacifier use
Pacifier use can provide pain and anxiety prevention. Babies are born with a strong, natural sucking reflex. This powerful urge to suck is usually satisfied at feedings, but sometimes, babies feel the need to suck even when they’re not hungry. This sucking motion is extremely comforting, and that’s why pacifiers can be helpful when babies have to undergo minor procedures – like circumcision, immunization and catheterization.
Pacifiers have health benefits for preterm infants. Research has found that nonnutritive sucking (sucking on something other than a breast or a bottle) can lead to shorter hospital stays and improved feeding skills. Pacifier use might help you bring baby home faster. No harmful effects have been shown for pacifier use in children less than 6 months of age.
Pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is often caused by physical factors, but it can also be caused by an unsafe sleep environment. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants that use pacifiers are less likely to roll into an unsafe sleep position. Pacifier use may also help with respiratory functions during sleep.
Cons of pacifier use
Pacifiers may hamper breastfeeding. The jury’s still out on this one, but the AAP currently recommends waiting until your baby is breastfeeding well before giving a pacifier to him or her. Babies might confuse the pacifier for the breast, making it harder to establish strong breastfeeding practices, so you might want to wait about a month until you first give your baby a pacifier.
Pacifiers may cause dental problems. Here’s the thing: The jury’s still out on this one, too. Studies have found that dental problems can occur in children who are still sucking away after 24 months, but they’re much more likely to occur in children who still use a pacifier at age four. After looking at a variety of sources, the AAFP’s consensus is this: Discourage pacifier use after four years of age. My son will be so happy – another two years of sucking on his pacifier!
Pacifiers could cause illness. Pacifiers spend a lot of time in your child’s mouth, on the floor, between the couch cushions…everywhere. They have the potential to get pretty germy. Studies have shown correlations between pacifier use and child illness, however, these studies are “too limited to draw conclusions,” according to the AAFP. Germs and children will find a way to reach each other no matter what you do – so don’t let this scare you away from giving your child a pacifier.
Tips for proper pacifier use
So when everything’s said and done, pacifiers aren’t a bad thing. If you plan to give your child a pacifier, here are some tips for using it in the healthiest way possible.
- Take it away after age four. As I stated above, the evidence points to dental problems if your child sucks on a pacifier past the age of four.
- Use age-appropriate pacifiers. You have to upgrade your child’s pacifiers as they get older. Giving your child a pacifier that’s too small could pose a choking hazard.
- Don’t dip it in anything sugary. You may be tempted to dip the pacifier in sugar water to get your baby to use it, but this could lead to tooth decay and cavities.
- Your baby doesn’t have to sleep with it. Yes, falling asleep with a pacifier can reduce the risk of SIDS, but if the pacifier falls out, don’t feel compelled to push it back in – they’ll be just fine without it.
- Keep it clean. Rinse pacifiers with warm water from time to time, especially when your child is sick.
- Don’t tie it around your baby’s neck. Lots of stores sell pacifier holders so that you can attach the pacifier to your child’s clothes. These can be strangulation hazards, so please don’t use them.
Pacifiers can be beneficial for babies when they’re used the right way. How long did your children use pacifiers? Let us know in the comments below!