Babies are born wanting to suck. Some even suck their thumb or fingers before they are born. This is a natural behavior that allows them to feed and grow. It is also comforting and helps them settle.

A pacifier (or soother) can be used to satisfy a baby’s need to suck. However, it should never be used instead of feeding, and it should never be used without the extra comfort and cuddling a parent can provide.

If your baby seems to want to suck in between feedings, a pacifier can help.

Pacifier Pros

Some of the good things pacifiers can do for your baby and you include:

  • Sucking on a pacifier is better than a thumb or finger because it causes fewer problems with future tooth development.
  • A parent can control the use of a pacifier but it’s harder to control thumb sucking. When it’s time to stop using a pacifier, you can throw it away. You can’t throw away a thumb!

  • Lower risk of SIDS: Pacifier use during naps or nighttime can prevent sudden infant death syndrome(SIDS). Doctors aren’t sure how it works, but if you give your baby a pacifier while she’s asleep, you might lower her risk of SIDS by more than half.

  • Satisfy the suck reflex: Babies have a natural need to suck. The bottle or breast usually meets this need, but the desire can linger even after the belly is full. A pacifier can help. Just be sure it doesn’t replace mealtime.

  • Encourage baby to self-soothe: Pacifiers can help babies learn to control their feelings, relax them, and make them feel secure. The comfort factor can be a double win: A calmer baby can mean calmer parents.

Pacifier Cons

There are strikes against pacifiers, too:

  • Nipple know-how: Breastfeeding is a natural process, but it may take a while for you or your baby to get the hang of it. If you nurse your infant, hold off on the pacifier for the first few weeks -- that gives time for your milk to come in, and for both of you to get in a good nursing pattern. That way, your baby won't start to prefer pacifiers over the nipple. After that, studies show no link between pacifier use and breastfeeding troubles.

  • Ear problems: According to one study, children who use pacifiers are almost twice as likely to get multiple ear infections as children who don’t.

  • Tooth troubles: Some parents wonder if a pacifier will affect their kid’s pearly whites. Just make sure your baby doesn't use them long term. “Before age 2, any problems with growing teeth usually self-correct within 6 months of stopping pacifier use,” says Evelina Weidman Sterling, PhD, MPH, co-author of Your Child's Teeth: A Complete Guide for Parents.

After the 2-year mark, problems can start. Your baby's top or bottom front teeth may slant or tilt.Problem can worsen as time goes on.Pacifier use after age 4, which is when permanent teeth start to come in, can have major long-lasting effects on adult teeth.

Pacifier Tips

If pacifiers are part of your plan, follow some guidelines to keep your baby safe:

  • Use a brand that is free of bisphenol-A (BPA). Studies have raised concerns about its effects on infants.

  • Don't secure a pacifier to your baby with a cord - it’s a strangling hazard.

  • Get the right size. Match it to your baby’s age to make sure it fits her mouth.

  • Don't let kids share a pacifier. You don’t want them to share germs. Also, wash pacifiers in soap and hot water to keep them clean between uses.

  • Pick a pacifier with ventilation holes in the shield to let air in.

  • Give the pacifier as is. If you sweeten it, it can damage your baby’s teeth.

When to remove pacifier

Like all good things, your child’s time with the pacifier will come to an end.

  • Honor the pacifier’s place. It may be tiny, but it has played a big role in your child’s life. Approach the end gently.
  • Don’t turn pacifier weaning into a power struggle.Use positive reinforcement instead of negative. You can couple it with unique ideas like the "pacifier fairy" taking it away.
  • Time it right. Wean your baby from a pacifier after 6 months old, when the risk of SIDS drops and ear infections become more likely. If you want to help him give it up slowly, try to limit it to nap time or sleep only. Also, try not to wean when other life changes occur.If there are major transitions going on at home or in the care setting -- a move, a new sibling, a change in caregiver, stress at home -- all of these may warrant continued use of the pacifier for soothing.

  • Be consistent. Remember, you’re not the only person who will spend time with your child during the weaning process.Make sure that all other caregivers -- parents, grandparents, babysitters, etc. -- stick to the same plan so no one gets confused.

The do's and dont's of pacifier

  • Never start using a pacifier until breastfeeding is fully established. Talk to your doctor or lactation specialist if you feel your baby needs to use one at this early stage. An exception is for premature or sick babies in the hospital. They may use one for comfort.

  • Never give your baby a pacifier instead of feeding.

  • Always see if your baby is hungry, tired or bored before giving him the pacifier. Try solving these things first.

  • Always sterilize the pacifier by putting it in boiling water for 5 min before the first use. Make sure it’s completely cooled down before giving it to your baby. Then, keep it clean by washing it with hot, soapy water after each use.

  • Always check for cracks or tears before giving a pacifier to your baby. Sometimes, parents give their baby a pacifier right after giving a medicine (like a pain reliever, antibiotics or vitamins); some of these medicines can cause the material in the pacifier to break down. If there are cracks or tears, throw it out. Replace the pacifier every two months, before damage occurs.

  • Never dip the pacifier in sugar or honey. This will damage the teeth. Honey can lead to botulism, which is a type of food poisoning.

  • Never tie a pacifier around a baby’s neck. This can cause strangulation and death. Instead, you can use clips with short ribbons attached to them. These are available where you buy pacifiers and are safe to use.

  • Never make your own pacifier out of bottle nipples, caps or other materials. These can cause choking and death.

  • Never let your older child crawl or walk around with a pacifier all day long. This may interfere with speech development and may cause problems with their teeth.

  • Never let your baby or child chew on a pacifier. It could break down and cause choking and death.

Tips on how to stop pacifier

  • Limit the time you allow your child to use a pacifier. Use it only for sleep time and comfort until about 12 months old and then plan to give it up.

  • Never use punishment or humiliation to force your child to give up using a pacifier.

  • Involve your child in the decision to stop using it by giving him the choice of throwing it away, putting it away or leaving it under the pillow for the ‘tooth fairy’.

  • Start a reward chart to mark your child’s progress.

  • Praise your child when your child has given up the pacifier and tell her you are proud that she is growing up.

  • Allow your child to express his feelings and if your child is upset or angry, give him special cuddles to help him cope.

  • If your child asks for the pacifier again (and she probably will), don’t give in. Remind her that the pacifier is gone and that she is grown up now.