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How to Use a Pacifier

Pacifiers help parents and infants get through periods of crying when the infant 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 thinks to think about as you are deciding if and when to use a pacifier.

Pros and cons

As you are deciding on what is best for your infant, here are some possible benefits and drawbacks of pacifier use.

Possible benefits of a pacifier:

  • Pacifiers can soothe a crying infant.

  • Decreased crying can help a parent's frayed nerves.

  • When an infant is nursing or sucking on a pacifier, pain can be reduced. Pacifiers are often used during painful procedures to comfort infants.

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

  • Pacifiers decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). If you are breastfeeding, it is recommended that you delay introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding is well established. When an infant has returned to his or her birth weight, you are comfortable with getting your baby latched onto the breast, and you are not concerned about your milk supply, then it is safe to introduce a pacifier. For most mothers, this is usually when your baby is about 3 to 4 weeks old. If you have chosen to formula feed your infant, you can introduce a pacifier immediately after your baby is born.

Possible drawbacks of a pacifier:

  • Affects the formation of the teeth, so that they don't meet properly, especially when used in children older than age 2

  • Pacifiers may create breastfeeding difficulties, especially if introduced before breastfeeding is well established. If you have chosen to breastfeed your infant, pacifiers can hide feeding cues. Feeding cues are ways that your baby tells you that he or she is hungry. Ultimately, this can affect your milk supply, increasing the chances that you will need to supplement with formula.

  • May increase incidence of ear infection (otitis media)

  • If a homemade pacifier is used, the risk increases for choking, ingesting materials, and contamination with bacteria, fungi, or toxic substances

How to choose a pacifier

Store display racks carry a bewildering selection of pacifiers. It may help to know that manufacturers say there are basically 2 types: orthodontic and nonorthodontic. An orthodontic design is meant to simulate a mother's nipple and to accommodate the baby's "tongue thrust" — the motion that strips milk from the mother's breast. The nipple tip is typically flatter and square-shaped. Nonorthodontic pacifiers are the older style, with the uniform bulb tip.

The vast majority of 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

  • Make sure the pacifier is a 1-piece pacifier when possible.

  • Avoid 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.

  • Do not dip the pacifier in sugar, honey, corn syrup, or other sugary materials.

  • Clean the pacifier regularly. Boiling is recommended for pacifiers if the child is younger than 6 months. An automatic dishwasher will do an adequate job of cleaning for all ages.

  • Replace the pacifier if it becomes damaged, the plastic begins to crack, or the surface breaks down into small plaques or plates.

  • When your child is a year old, you may want to talk with your pediatrician about how and when to wean your baby from using a pacifier.