Among the many choices a new parent must make, whether or not to use a pacifier is one of the great debates. Choosing to introduce a pacifier (and when, and which one) should be carefully considered and align with parents’ goals for feeding, soothing and development. If you’re still on the fence about the binky, read on for advice from our experts to help you decide.
When Can Parents Start Giving a Pacifier to Their Newborn?
A pacifier can be offered from day one, and hospitals will usually give new parents a few following birth to help calm a baby between feedings and assist with sleep. Another reason pacifiers are encouraged for young infants is because some studies suggest they might help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), though research is still ongoing.
One important pro to note is that pacifiers are disposable, meaning you can ditch it immediately if you find it’s not a good fit at any time, which experts say is a better scenario later on. “[We] recommend new babies suck on pacifiers instead of thumbs or fingers for comfort because a pacifier habit tends to be easier to stop down the road and at an earlier age,” says Edward Moody, DDS, member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) and private practice pediatric dentist in Tennessee. “Also, remember to never dip a pacifier in anything sweet, which could lead to serious tooth decay,” he warns. This tidbit is especially important if you’ve ever thought about using honey to make your baby’s pacifier more appealing. Honey consumption is dangerous for children under age 1 because it carries an increased risk of infant botulism.
Is a Pacifier Recommended for a Breastfed Baby?
When it comes to early pacifier-use and nursing, expert advice is clear.
“I do not recommend pacifier-use for newborns,” says Aubri Lutz, an IBCLC with Lactation Link in Utah. “This is because you want to establish successful breastfeeding prior to introducing artificial nipples to the baby.”
Lutz explains that research has shown introducing artificial nipples can lead to nipple confusion and even early weaning from breastfeeding if nursing hasn’t been well established beforehand.
The remedy? Patience, perseverance and practice—like all things in parenting.
“To prevent nipple confusion, keep all suckling at the breast for the early weeks and avoid use of pacifiers during growth spurts. If your baby is showing hunger cues, it is best to put her directly to breast for a breastfeeding session. With too much use of a pacifier, parents decrease the suckling time at the breast; this decreased time at the breast can translate to lower milk supply,” says Lutz.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also encourages waiting until breastfeeding is well established before introducing a pacifier. According to Lutz, well established breastfeeding would entail “no pain or issues with latch, diaper output is appropriate for age, weight gain has started to steadily increase, and baby is overall meeting developmental milestones.”
Do Pacifiers Affect Oral Development?
Even if you wait to offer a pacifier after feeding routines are solidified, there are still potential problems to consider. “When a baby repeatedly sucks on a pacifier or finger over a long period of time, the upper front teeth may begin to tip outward or not come in properly,” explains Dr. Moody. “Crooked teeth or bite problems can also occur with prolonged sucking and may result in the child needing significant orthodontic treatment later to correct the problem.”
To ensure your baby is on track for proper development, the AAPD advises paying a visit to baby’s pediatric dentist by age 1 or whenever the first tooth appears. And if you can’t quell your concerns before then, you can also wean baby off their pacifier to get ahead of any issues.
“The earlier a child can stop a sucking habit, the less chance there is that the habit will lead to orthodontic problems,” notes Dr. Moody. “Remember that the sucking instinct is normal for infants and young children, and understand that most children will naturally stop on their own. If a child does not stop by herself, the habit should be discouraged after 3 years of age.”
What Pacifiers are Best for Infants?
When choosing a pacifier for your little one, make safety and shape the priorities.
“Any pacifier that is used should fall under the consumer product safety guidelines [for pacifiers],” says Lutz. Additionally, “one-piece pacifiers are the safest and prevent risk of choking and suffocation. Ideally, choose a shape that allows the baby’s tongue to curl around the nipple, and avoid anything flat or horizontal as this reinforces chewing and not suckling. Overall, anything cylindrical or sloped like a mountain is a great option for a breastfeed baby,” explains Lutz.
Thinking of adding a paci or two to your registry? Here are our top picks: