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 things 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.

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

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

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

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

If you are breastfeeding, 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 his or her birth weight

  • You are comfortable getting your baby latched onto the breast

  • You are not concerned about your milk supply

For most mothers, this is usually when your baby is about 3 to 4 weeks old. If you have chosen to feed your infant formula, you can introduce a pacifier immediately after your baby is born.

Possible cons 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

  • May increase the possibility of ear infection

  • Pacifiers 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 he or she is 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 2 types: orthodontic and nonorthodontic. An orthodontic design is meant to imitate a mother’s nipple and to accommodate the baby’s “tongue thrust.” This is the motion that pulls milk from the mother’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.

  • 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.

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

  • When your child is one year old, talk with your healthcare provider about how and when to wean your baby from the pacifier.