Newborns vs pacifiers

Svetlana January 01 2022

What is a pacifier?

A pacifier is a small rubber, plastic, or cloth object that has been shaped to be held in the mouth. Its main purpose is to replace the mother's nipple during feeding. A pacifier may also help provide comfort when a baby cries or is agitated.

Why do babies need pacifiers?

Babies often suck on their pacifiers while they are going to sleep. This can be a way for a baby to comfort herself and relax before she becomes fully asleep. Some parents worry that using a pacifier will cause problems with breastfeeding or teeth alignment, but there is no reason why these things should happen if the pacifier is used properly.

The variety of pacifiers

There are a lot of different types of pacifiers, such as:

  • Soothie pacifier  - Orthodontic Cushion - This type of pacifier is recommended for newborns. It has a wide shield with holes so it's easy to attach the soother by means of a clip or other similar device to prevent it from being lost.
    This type should not be used by children younger than six months because they still have very immature teeth and too much sucking power can hurt them. When using this kind of pacifier, don't cover the top part where the baby's nose is because that could cause an obstructed airway.  
  • Soft tip pacifier  - Latex nipple - the only thing that holds this one in is the sucking power of the child; it doesn't have a shield. It is recommended for children over six months old. This type should never be used in younger children because they could swallow pieces and choke on them, suffer an obstructed airway or even suffocate.
  • Orthodontic pacifier  - Silicone nipple - this is similar to the previous one but safer. The only difference between these two types is that this one has ventilation holes that prevent pieces from getting stuck inside, which would cause choking.
  • Orthodontic pacifier with an attached string  - NUK - the only thing that holds this one in is the sucking power of the child; it doesn't have a shield. This particular type has two ventilation holes and also comes in different flavors such as grape, strawberry, and orange.
    This kind should not be used by children younger than six months because they still have very immature teeth and too much sucking power can hurt them. When using this kind of pacifier, don't cover the top part where the baby's nose is because that could cause an obstructed airway.
  • Soother chain (attached to clothing)  - Orthodontic pacifier - usually made from latex or silicone, this particular type has two ventilation holes. This kind should not be used by children younger than six months because they still have very immature teeth and too much sucking power can hurt them. When using this kind of pacifier, don't cover the top part where the baby's nose is because that could cause an obstructed airway.

How to choose a good pacifier?

While selecting a pacifier for your baby, you should pay attention to:

  • It has ventilation holes: this allows the baby to breathe better.
  • It has a shield with holes so you can attach the soother by means of a clip or other similar device to prevent it from being lost, which could pose a choking hazard.
  • The shield is one piece. These kinds of pacifiers are the safest for your baby because they prevent issues such as choking, obstructed airway or ear infections.
  • It doesn't have the nipple attached by means of a string or thread  
  • The nipple is made out of soft material that cannot be chewed off easily (such as silicone).  
  • The nipple is big enough to prevent it from entering too far down your child's throat.

It's really important not to choose one that is too small for your child's mouth because this might cause problems in their growth and speech development in the future. Also, make sure they are teething before using them. If you aren't sure when your baby starts teething, read the next section to find out.

How to know if your baby is ready to use a pacifier?

Some newborns are able to suck without help, while others need extra help. The best way of figuring it out is by the following signs:

  1. They look for something to suck on with their mouth, turning their head or opening wide.  
  2. They can swallow liquids and food easily. However, they still have trouble digesting solids so don't give them anything hard until after six months old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that you shouldn't give your baby a pacifier just because he cries too much but only when all other methods fail. If this happens, you should first try soothing him some ways before resorting to giving him the pacifier. For instance, you can rock him, sing lullabies or do whatever your baby likes the most to calm him down.

How long should I let my baby use his/her pacifier?

Until your child shows signs of being able to give it up. A lot of children drop their pacifiers around 18 months or so, although some continue to use them past 2 years. When trying to take away the pacifier, don't force it if he/she really doesn't want to let go!

How to keep the pacifier in a newborn`s mouth?

To keep a pacifier in a baby's mouth you need to introduce it as early as possible. Some studies have shown that babies who start using it at day 3 are less likely to become dependent on it.

Put the pacifier in your newborn`s mouth when he/she is crying or agitated. Many parents believe that introducing the pacifier will make their child dependant on it, but if used properly this isn't true!

While the baby is sleeping, always remove the pacifier because she can choke on it. If your little one sleeps with you, you should carefully consider what you are going to do because there are risks involved for both of you if she sucks her thumb or fingers while sleeping next to mommy or daddy.

If you introduce the pacifier properly, your little one won`t become dependent on it nor will he/she experience any dental problems in the future.

What if your baby doesn`t want to mouth a pacifier?

Some babies are very resistant when it comes to starting using the pacifier. If your baby doesn`t suck on it, put it aside for a while and try again in a few days. If he/she still doesn't want to use the pacifier then don`t force him/her! There is no need to feel guilty about giving up if you try everything but nothing works!

What shouldn`t you do?

  1. Never confuse your baby by prolonging a pacifier as a toy. In this case, you could end up with a child who can`t even play without the pacifier in his/her mouth. Leave it for when he/she wants or needs it!
  2. Never tie or attach your baby's pacifier to her clothing because she could choke on it and suffocate. Don't ever use a soother chain either!
  3. Never leave the little one unattended while using the pacifier, especially if he/she is in an infant car seat because there are choking risks involved once she falls asleep.
  4. Don´t worry too much about dental problems in the future if your baby sucks on pacifiers - studies have shown that this doesn`t happen!  

Why do pacifiers fall out sometimes?

When a baby sleeps, saliva accumulates at the corners of his/her mouth and that causes the pacifier to eventually fall out. If your little one falls asleep with a bottle or any other type of nipple, he/she is more likely to have problems with the pacifier slipping out.

Also, your baby may suck weakly, so a pacifier with a shield works better than one without.

Moreover, your baby may have problems related to poor motor skills and coordination development, e.g. floppy or stiff muscles, which make keeping a pacifier in his/her mouth difficult.

How to clean a pacifier if it fell down on the floor?

If the pacifier fell down on the floor, wash it with cold water to remove any contaminants. Don`t use soap or other disinfectants because they are toxic for babies!

Be careful when you are cleaning a baby's pacifier- clean in all the cracks and crevices but don't scrub too hard because you could damage it. When finished cleaning it, rinse under cold running water and place in boiling water for one minute to sterilize. Make sure your little one doesn't touch it while using it because he/she might burn his/her fingers!  

You can also sterilize it in a microwave for 30 seconds after boiling, but make sure to put it into a sterilizing solution. Remember that the most important thing is to keep your baby safe! If you have any doubts or questions about pacifiers, don't hesitate to contact your pediatrician!

What if my baby is addicted to the pacifier?

Some parents feel guilty about taking away their baby`s pacifier because they believe it will harm him/her in some way, but that isn`t true! Forcing your child to give up his/her "comfort object" is just as bad as forcing an adult to give up cigarettes and alcohol. If you introduce the pacifier properly and take it away at the right age it won`t be harmful to your little one.

In some cases, children use a pacifier past three years of age, but those are very rare cases. When those children turn six years old, some parents decide to make them stop using a pacifier because it is no longer age-appropriate. But you should never force your child to stop using his/her pacifier!

What can you do if your child chews a pacifier?

If your child is still using a pacifier and his/her teeth start coming in, then he/she will chew on it. Unfortunately, that sometimes results in tearing the nipple and separator of the pacifier apart and swallowing small pieces that can cause harm to your little one's digestive tract.

In such cases, you should remind your child not to chew on his/her pacifier! If chewing gets him/her in trouble, he/she will eventually stop doing it by himself or herself.

Pros and cons of using pacifiers

According to most studies, giving a child a pacifier before they go to sleep has benefited such as:

  • Reducing their risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Reducing ear infections
  • Slowing down weight gain
  • Preventing dental malocclusion.  

Most children will need something in their mouths while sleeping because it helps them feel secure which is why many pediatricians recommend using dummies.

However, some say that pacifiers can cause dental problems because the child may become accustomed to having something in his/her mouth. Others argue that it prevents breastfeeding which can also lead to health issues for babies.

The AAP states that if parents decide to give their child a pacifier then they should wash it often and replace it before each use. They also recommend introducing the pacifier as early as possible and using it only after feeding or when your baby is upset.

In case you are not sure about whether your baby needs a pacifier or not, consult with his/her pediatrician!

Bottom line

It is important to pick the right time to introduce your baby to a pacifier and use only one that has been made for babies. Never force your child to stop using his/her "comfort item" because he/she might harm themselves. If you are concerned about your baby having dental problems or if they become addicted to their pacifiers then consult with his/her pediatrician!