Pacifier shame is a thing, and for the life of me I don't understand why. The pacifier gets a lot of negative attention as a sleep crutch - something your baby is dependent upon to fall asleep. But is the pacifier actually bad? No, it's not. The pacifier is an excellent and safe soothing tool, and one I encourage my clients to use when sleep training a younger infant.
Baby's suck to soothe
Most babies have a strong sucking reflex by nature. You've probably seen those adorable ultrasound photos of baby sucking his thumb before being born. That's because sucking has a calming effect. When used properly, sucking is a wonderful, and calming routine that helps soothe a fussy baby and can even help baby fall asleep.
Benefits of using a pacifier
According to the Mayo Clinic, a pacifier has many advantages:
Helps to soothe a fussy baby.
May offer temporary pain relief and distraction during common procedures like shots.
May help baby fall asleep by encouraging the sucking to soothe reflex.
Can be helpful during flights to relieve ear pain caused by air pressure changes.
Studies have shown that sucking on a pacifier during naps and nighttime can even help reduce the risk of SIDS.
How to use a pacifier properly
The pacifier can be an amazing soothing tool for a baby by triggering that soothing reflex through sucking. Additionally, a pacifier can quickly become a security object for your little one, providing a sense of comfort and safety just like a lovey or favorite animal may. However, it is important to use the pacifier correctly to avoid possible issues.
Use the pacifier for naps and bedtime only or when baby is having a common procedure done such as shots.
Never have a lanyard attached to the pacifier of a sleeping baby. This is unsafe and can result in strangulation.
Teach baby how to reinsert the pacifier on their own by placing it into baby's hands and gently bringing baby's hands up to her mouth.
Never substitute a pacifier for a feeding. While a pacifier may help soothe a fussy infant, nothing will help soothe a hungry infant other than feeding.
If breastfeeding, the AAP recommends waiting 3-4 weeks before introducing the pacifier so you can establish a good breastfeeding routine. That sucking stimulation is needed to help establish a good milk supply. If you have concerns, reach out to a lactation consultant for help.
Cut back on pacifiers if your child's ears are frequently infected. Strong sucking can create pressure inside the ear, leading to increased ear infections in some children.
Follow baby's cues. Not all babies want a pacifier - follow your baby's lead and don't force or coax a pacifier if it's not wanted.
Keep it clean. Never let baby share pacifiers with anyone else or put the pacifier in your own mouth. This is an excellent way to pass along unwanted germs. Be sure to frequently wash the pacifier with soap and hot water. Remember that whatever the pacifier touches is going to go directly into baby's mouth.
When to wean the pacifier
Many medical professionals agree that prolonged pacifier use (beyond 48 months) can lead to dental issues. Always check with your pediatrician or dentist when in doubt.
Most toddlers are ready to wean the pacifier by ages 2-4. While many kids stop using a pacifier on their own, some need a little extra help. In this case it can be useful to establish a reward system for when your toddler sleeps without their paci. If using a pacifier with an animal attached, there's no need to get rid of the animal itself - it often has become their security object. Just cut the nipple off the pacifier when ready and let your toddler continue to sleep with the little animal.