Some parents swear pacifiers are lifesavers, and others prefer not to use them. Our guide can help you decide whether using a pacifier is right for you and your baby.
Advantages of pacifiers
Sucking seems to have a soothing and settling effect on babies. Sucking a pacifier helps some babies settle.
When babies use pacifiers during sleeps and naps, there’s a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The best way to protect your baby against sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents is to put him to sleep on his back with his face uncovered.
Disadvantages of pacifiers
Not all babies like pacifiers. There are other downsides to pacifiers too:
- Pacifier use is linked to slightly higher rates of middle ear infections.
- Pacifier use, especially beyond about 4-5 years of age, increases the chance of dental problems later in childhood – for example, the problem of a child’s teeth growing out of line.
- Babies can get very upset when pacifiers are lost or misplaced.
- Babies can end up needing their pacifiers to get to sleep.
- If babies aren’t old enough to find their pacifiers and put them back in during the night, they’ll cry for help. You can teach pacifier independence when your baby is eight months or older.
Eventually, your child will have to part with the pacifier. Children who have had their pacifiers for some time are likely to be very attached to them.
Choosing a pacifier
Pacifiers come in different shapes. The best way to find one that’s right for your baby is just to experiment.
Here are tips to help you choose a pacifier for your baby:
- Look for a one-piece model with a soft nipple. Pacifiers made in two pieces can break apart and become choking hazards.
- Look for a firm plastic shield with air holes. Check the shield is more than 3 cm across so your baby can’t put the whole thing in her mouth.
- If your baby is younger than six months old, choose a pacifier that can go into the dishwasher or be boiled.
- Check the labelling to make sure you have the right size for your baby’s age. Most pacifiers are labelled for babies either under or over six months.
- Tying the pacifier around your baby’s hand, neck or cot is dangerous. Your child could choke on the string or chain if it’s long enough to catch around your child’s neck.
- If you’re bottle-feeding, your baby might like a pacifier from the same brand as the bottle. The teats are often the same.
Using a pacifier
To ensure that pacifier-sucking doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding, it’s best to offer the pacifier only when you can be sure your baby isn’t hungry – for example, after or between feeds.
If you’re experiencing problems with breastfeeding, speak with your paediatrician or lactation consultant.
Don’t dip your baby’s pacifier in sweet drinks or sweet food like honey because this can cause tooth decay.
If your baby uses a pacifier, have spares on hand. Your baby is bound to drop the pacifier somewhere without you noticing, then get upset when he wants it again.
Looking after the pacifier
Babies under six months should use pacifier that have been sterilised.
From about six months, your child will be more resistant to infections. This means you need only to wash the pacifier with soap and water, rather than sterilising it. Just make sure to squeeze out any fluid that gets inside.
Check the pacifier regularly to see whether it’s worn or degraded. Replace the pacifier if it’s broken or worn. Babies can choke on any loose bits.
An alternative to pacifier use is sucking fingers or thumbs. This is normal and common. On the upside, babies can find their own fingers easily when they need them. On the downside, you can’t ban fingers when your child gets bigger. Luckily, most kids give up finger-sucking by themselves.
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