Most babies have a strong sucking reflex. Some babies even suck their thumbs or fingers before they're born. Beyond nutrition, sucking often has a soothing, calming effect. That's why many parents rank pacifiers as must haves, right up there with diaper wipes and baby swings. But are pacifiers really OK for your baby? Although the answer to that question is often debated, the American Academy of Pediatrics gives pacifiers the green light.
For some babies, pacifiers are the key to contentment between feedings. Consider the advantages:
A pacifier may soothe a fussy baby. Some babies are happiest when they're sucking on something.
A pacifier offers temporary distraction. When your baby's hungry, a pacifier may buy you a few minutes to find a comfortable spot to nurse or to prepare a bottle. A pacifier may also come in handy during shots, blood tests or other procedures.
A pacifier may help your baby fall asleep. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick.
Pacifiers may help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Researchers have found an association between pacifier use during sleep and a reduced risk of SIDS.
Pacifiers are disposable. When it's time to stop using pacifiers, you can throw them away. If your child prefers to suck on his or her thumb or fingers, it may be more difficult to break the habit.
Of course, pacifiers have pitfalls as well. Consider the drawbacks:
Early pacifier use may interfere with breast-feeding. Sucking on a breast is different from sucking on a pacifier or bottle. Some babies have trouble learning how to nurse properly if they're given a pacifier too soon.
Your baby may become dependent on the pacifier. If your baby uses a pacifier to sleep, you may face frequent middle-of-the-night crying spells when the pacifier falls out of your baby's mouth.
Pacifier use may increase the risk of middle ear infections. However, rates of middle ear infections are generally lowest from birth to age 6 months — when the risk of SIDS is the highest and your baby may be most interested in a pacifier.
Prolonged pacifier use may lead to dental problems. Normal pacifier use during the first few years of life doesn't cause long-term dental problems. However, prolonged pacifier use may cause a child's top front teeth to slant outward or not come in properly.