Sucking on their thumb is common reflux in infants and babies. Most babies suck on their thumbs even before they are born. Sucking has a soothing effect on babies and a pacifier is one such tool. A pacifier is a rubber, plastic, or silicone nipple substitute given to an infant to suckle upon between feedings. Pacifiers can help babies learn to control their feelings, relax them, and make them feel secure.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), using a pacifier comes with both benefits and downsides. Pacifiers provide a source of comfort to infants and assist in reducing the rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the AGD. 

Conversely, pacifiers can damage the growth and development of the teeth of most babies. Prolonged pacifier use can cause changes in the shape of the roof of the oral cavity, prevent proper growth of the mouth and create problems with tooth alignment. 

As a parent, it is quite normal to get confused if your baby should use a pacifier or not. Read on to find out the answers to a few frequently asked questions about pacifiers and their use. 

5 Frequently Asked Questions About Pacifiers

1. When can you introduce a pacifier?

Sucking on a pacifier and sucking on a breast are different actions, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that you wait until your baby is breastfeeding well and your milk supply is established. Your child’s 1-month birthday should be about the right time, though that's just a guideline. Consult your paediatrician to know more.

Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a woman's breast. 

2. What is a good age to take away a pacifier?

Experts agree that pacifiers are entirely appropriate for soothing your baby. However, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) suggests stopping the use of a pacifier before the age of 2 years and eliminating it by age 4 years. This is because studies show that prolonged pacifier use might increase your child’s risk of middle ear infections or dental problems.  

Pacifiers can harm the growth and development of your child’s mouth and teeth. Prolonged use can cause changes in the shape of the roof of your child’s mouth. 

3. When should you replace a pacifier?

It is recommended to replace your baby’s pacifier every two months. Look for discoloration, holes, tears, and weak spots that could cause the nipple to break off when sucked, and that can put your baby at risk of choking. Some nipples also become sticky with age and need to be replaced. 

Pacifiers aren't very expensive, so it's best to replace them as soon as they start to show signs of deterioration.

4. How to clean or sanitize your baby’s pacifiers?

Sterilize the pacifier by putting it in boiling water for 5 minutes before the first use. Make sure it's completely cooled down before giving it to your baby. Keep it clean by washing it with hot, soapy water after each use. 

5. Are pacifiers good or bad?

Pacifiers used during naps or nighttime can prevent the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by more than 50% and satisfy the suck reflex because babies have a natural need to suck. A pacifier can soothe your fussy baby and offer distraction during times of distress. Pacifiers are disposable, inexpensive, and can be used anytime you wish.

On the other hand, your baby might become dependent on the pacifier, if he/she is used to falling asleep with it. Pacifiers can disrupt breast-feeding. Not only this, as mentioned earlier, they can increase your baby’s risk of middle ear infections and dental problems.

While pacifiers are recommended when your baby is just a toddler (1 to 3 years), their risks start to outweigh as your baby gets older. 

If you wish to give your child a pacifier, these tips can help reduce the overall harm:

  • Restrict the use of a pacifier when your baby needs to fall asleep.

  • Look for a pacifier with aeration in the shield, as they permit air passage. 

  • Always clean the pacifier before giving it to your child.

Besides these questions, another important question you might have is about how to break your child’s habit of using a pacifier. Read on!

Breaking the Pacifier Habit

Breaking the habit is not always easy. The AGD recommends that children should stop using pacifiers by age two. (up until that age, any alignment problem with the teeth or the developing bone is usually corrected within six months after pacifier use is stopped).

Here are a few suggestions for helping your child wean (move away) from the pacifier:      

  • Dip the pacifier in white vinegar or lemon juice. The terrible taste of these drinks (not harmful for your child) could make your child swear off their pacifier for good. Consult your paediatrician before resorting to this method.

  • Pierce the top of the pacifier or cut it shorter to reduce sucking satisfaction.

  • Leave it behind on a trip.

  • Always throw away a used pacifier; it is not hygienic for another child to use the same one.

Pacifiers have both their pros and cons. Consult your paediatrician to know more about its use, advantages, and disadvantages. If your child has difficulty in breaking the habit of using a pacifier, ask your doctor for more help.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.