Pacifier use is a hot topic of debate among parents. I’m pro-pacifier. From the time my twins were newborns, I relied on pacifiers to help soothe and comfort them. Of course, I always heard a range of opinions (as new moms do) about whether or not pacifier use was okay for my son who really loved his pacifier, and when I should force him to give it up. So, I went with my gut (and what my pediatrician said): I let him use a pacifier for sleep or when he was sick, and then at his 3-year checkup, he handed them all over to his doctor like a big boy. Pacifier use never affected his speech, his bite, his teeth, or his general awesomeness.
So, with that in mind, I talked to pediatric dentists and doctors to find out the real deal giving babies pacifiers. Spoiler alert: They’re actually a better option than sucking thumbs or fingers.
Myth #1: You should avoid getting your kid hooked on a pacifier.
Truth: While you might think it’s a mistake to even go down the pacifier road, experts point out that it’s a reliable way for your baby to soothe himself. “All that sucking is a psychologically nurturing, calming activity, and as a dentist, I would much rather see them suck a pacifier because at some point, you can take it away,” explains Robert Delarosa, DDS, a Baton-Rouge-based pediatric dentist, and the former president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. “Pacifier use only becomes a problem if the frequency, intensity, and duration is at a premium.”
He recommends limiting a baby or child’s use of the pacifier to when she’s in her crib or bed, or even just resting. “Once your child is mobile and active, she shouldn’t have a pacifier in her mouth all of the time,” he warns. He also encourages positive reinforcement of pacifier use, framing the crib-only habit as a special treat, rather than a bad, shameful thing.
Another bonus of sleepytime use: It prevents Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommends putting a baby down for bed with a pacifier because they found it significantly reduces the risk of SIDS.
One caveat: If you’re breastfeeding, wait until a newborn is a couple of weeks old before you introduce the pacifier. “You want breastfeeding to be well-established because the mechanism for sucking a pacifier is different from the mechanism for latching onto the nipple,” says Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and The Everett Clinic and author of Mama Doc Medicine.
Myth #2: Some pacifiers are better than others.
Truth: While many pacifiers claim to be superior for children’s teeth, there hasn’t been enough peer review research to deem one better than another, especially since all kids suck on their pacis with different parts of their mouth, Dr. Delarosa explains. That being said, make sure you’re using an age appropriate pacifier. “You don’t want a newborn using a too-big toddler-sized pacifier, or a toddler using a too-small infant pacifier because that’s when it can affect the bite,” warns Swanson. Experts also recommend a pacifier that is in one solid piece so it doesn’t break apart in your baby’s mouth.
Myth #3: Pacifier use is bad for your child’s teeth.
Truth: If pacifiers are used conservatively, then no, they won’t affect your child’s teeth or their bite. “As long as there’s nothing sugary or fermented on the pacifier or fingers, it won’t cause an increase in decay,” says Delarosa. “I see many more problems when kids go to bed with a bottle.”
Again though, it goes back to frequency, intensity and duration. “If a toddler has a constant habit, that can cause narrowing of the upper palate, shifting of the teeth, and poor tongue posture, but that’s only if the pacifier use is all the time,” says Aura Caldera, DDS, a dentist who practices in both New Jersey and New York.
Myth #4: Letting your kid use a pacifier will affect speech.
Truth: Okay, we may sound like a broken record here, but as long as the pacifier isn’t used when a baby or child is socializing, or used too frequently, it shouldn’t affect his speech. “Prolonged habits could affect the bite and tongue in such a way that it could create a lisp, but again, that’s only with frequent and intense pacifier use,” says Dr. Caldera. “It’s not likely if pacifier use is limited to when the child is sleeping.”
Myth #5: It’s so hard for kids to give up their pacifiers.
Truth: Some kids seem to love their binky with such devotion, you wonder how you’ll ever break the habit. My son was one of those children, we thought; however, he handed his pacis to his doctor and that was the end of it, without shedding a single tear. So, speaking from experience, it’s really not a big deal. “The truth is that by 3.5 or 4, the vast majority of children tend to give up the habit on their own,” says Dr. Delarosa.
If that doesn’t seem to be happening though, there are plenty of creative ways to help wean your child off of her paci. “Some kids will ‘send’ the pacifier to another baby who needs it, trade it in for a cool toy, or use a reward chart,” says Dr. Swanson. You can also discuss how “big kids” don’t use pacifiers, or have the pediatrician explain it to her to give it some weight. “The key is once you get rid of the pacifiers, stop talking about them and don’t give them back,” she adds. “If you go back, the child will never learn that she can survive without it.”
Photo: Courtesy of MAM