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Pacifiers: Should you or shouldn’t you?

September 16, 2015

I’ve found that one of the things mothers often have strong opinions about is their baby’s use of a pacifier.

Some mothers will tell you they despise seeing an unsightly piece of plastic hanging out of a kid’s mouth long after the age it seems suitable. Others will tell you they just don’t want their kid to become dependent on them. And still others (like me) think pacifiers are a helpful tool when used appropriately.

There are many things in child-rearing where there is a clear-cut answer based on scientific evidence. Your doctor will tell you those things with confidence: baby should sleep on his back or avoid drinking cow’s milk for his first year, for example. Pacifiers aren’t one of those clear-cut “shoulds” or “shouldn’ts.” It comes down to personal preference more than anything.

However, there are a few things to consider beyond the aesthetics when deciding whether or not to offer your little one a pacifier:

Pacifier use is associated with a decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

There are a host of variables that contribute to a lower risk of SIDS. The most important ones are that you make sure your baby sleeps on his back, avoid co-sleeping and smoking and clear a child’s crib of soft bedding, blankets, toys or stuffed animals.

Scientific studies have also shown a relationship between a lower incidence of SIDS and the use of a pacifier. I can’t tell you exactly how or why those two variables are related, but it seems to be so.

Pacifier use in infancy doesn’t cause long-term dental issues

Many parents curtail the use of a pacifier early on because they fear their child will suffer dental problems later in life. When a baby or toddler uses a pacifier consistently, their front teeth may begin to flare out a little bit. However, toddler’s jaws are still malleable when they are this young. Once pacifier use is discontinued, the shape of their teeth and jaw will normalize. It could become a dental concern if the pacifier is used well beyond the toddler years, especially once permanent teeth begin to come in. However, pacifier use before that age doesn’t cause a long-term issue.

If pacifiers prevent thumb-sucking, they may be a good thing

If you’re concerned about long-term dental issues, pacifiers may actually be the answer, not the enemy. Babies are born with a natural affinity for sucking and a need to be soothed, and pacifiers can be an incredible comfort to them. If you don’t offer a pacifier to satisfy their need, they may just find their own answer: their thumb. It serves the same purpose, right?

There’s nothing wrong with sucking a thumb either (when it’s age-appropriate). It comes down to that personal preference thing again. However, my thought has always been that I would rather my child use a pacifier for comfort because I can take the pacifier away when the time is right. Their thumb? Well, good luck with that one. You can’t take it away when it becomes time to break the habit. And I prefer not to enter into a battle that I’m sure to lose.

Read more about how to break the thumb sucking habit, .

My other preference for the pacifier over the thumb simply comes down to a hygiene issue. I can wash a pacifier, and I can buy new ones. Once a child becomes mobile, they are touching anything and everything in sight. They will put items into their mouths (unless they are already sucking on a pacifier), and if they’re a thumb sucker that hand that has just touched every germ within a 5-mile radius? You guessed it- right into their mouth.

In my experience the pacifier is a helpful way to soothe babies and toddlers, but it still allows me the control to determine when it’s time to transition away from it.

If you aren’t sure, talk to your doctor about it

My pediatrician always gave me this advice. They can have the pacifier whenever they want it until the age of two. After that, the pacifier is used only at bedtime until the age of three. After the third birthday, the pacifier goes away completely. Again, there isn’t a hard and fast rule about this, but I have found this advice very helpful.

If you’re not sure whether a pacifier is right for your little one, talk to your pediatrician. If you’re concerned about the potential dental issues that may arise, make an appointment with a pediatric dentist and ask his or her advice.

You’ll find that once you’re armed with good information, it’s much easier to make a decision for your family.

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