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Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Your Child’s Pacifier Habit
The Great Pacifier Debate has waged on for generations, and parents throw study after conflicting study at one another. Some say pacifiers can save lives and help a child learn how to self-soothe, whereas others believe it teaches the opposite.
A parent’s natural state of mind is worry, besides love. You want to do everything right for your child, and if you over question and go into avoidance mode, your child may never experience the consequences and challenges that produce well-rounded growth. That parental dilemma directly correlates with deciding to make the right choices about whether to use sippy cups, bottles and pacifiers.
What if your child refuses to break their pacifier habit and their teeth start cutting? Won’t their teeth come in crooked and impact their latch? Possibly, but it depends on how and when your child uses their pacifier, not who is right and who is wrong.
Revisiting Pacifier Use and Considerations
Parents weigh many factors when deciding if their child should use a pacifier or not, but you really shouldn’t worry yourself over the decision to use one within the first two years.
Here’s the bad: While pacifiers may increase the risk of middle ear infections, the likelihood of them happening is especially low before the age of 6 months. Chronic use of pacifiers risks a narrow palate, crooked teeth, tooth decay, cavities and sleep apnea in adulthood, but the same may be said of prolonged reliance on comfort from the breast or thumbsucking. The increased need for wisdom tooth and tonsil removal also connect with chronic pacifier use and changes to the jaw, palate and airways.
Here’s the good: Infants have a strong urge to suck, and pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS. Non-nutritive sucking on a breast or bottle also can lead to cavities and other negative oral health concerns. Use the pacifier without shame if they don’t take to their thumb, and know that the pacifier’s usually an easier habit to break than thumbsucking. Most children give up pacifier use by age 2, but experts recommend intervention if they don’t find other methods of comfort by age 4.
Keep Pacifier Use Healthy and Consistent
Pacifiers can strengthen your child’s jaw muscles from an early age, offset mouth breathing, offer emotional comfort from infanthood and give parents a break. If you’re on edge, you may give in to the temptation to yell or cry. Stress gets the best of every parent at some point.
Pacifiers aid parents and babies when the use is consistent in how and when. After age 1, start graduating your child to using their binky only during naptime and sleeping at night.
Wait three or four weeks before introducing a pacifier until parents and child settle into a feeding routine, especially if nursing. The baby could confuse the pacifier tip for the nipple, missing one to three feedings on average. Don’t put the pacifier to your child’s lips immediately like you would a breast, because parents could end up missing feeding cues.
Choosing the Best Pacifier for the Job
Still deciding on whether your child will use a pacifier or not? If you decide to use a pacifier, make sure you choose the best pacifier for the job.
The baby sucks from the age of 16 weeks in gestation. If born preterm, the child may struggle with coordination of sucking and swallowing and experience choking if feeding begins too soon. Sucking opportunities, through the use of a pacifier, infant thumb or breast, help support the development of the sucking reflex. For under 32 weeks, choose a pacifier about the size of their thumb.
For a full-term infant, select a pacifier similar to the mother’s nipple. The pacifier needs a cylindrical shape to support tongue-cupping, where it forms a groove in the middle of the tongue where the pacifier goes. The nipple of the pacifier needs a small bolus on the very end to stimulate the baby’s soft palate, which will also help with the release of calming endorphins inside the brain.
As with anything in life, the time comes to move on to the next stage and give up certain items for growth, which means bye-bye binky. Try to allow your child to decide for themselves when it’s time to say goodbye in their own way, which will support strong autonomy and learning emotional self-regulation and coping skills.
Maybe that means regifting the binky to the Binky Fairy or a toy inheriting the binky. Encourage your child as they learn and practice other self-soothing techniques.
Using a pacifier doesn’t sentence your child to a life of oral health and sleep problems, especially when used in the first two years. Pacifier use can help both parent and child slip into healthy feeding routines and enable your child to learn how they prefer to self-soothe and regulate their emotions.
Life may suck sometimes, but sucking is natural for a baby. It’s in the how and when that makes pacifier use healthy, so that’s one less thing for you to worry about now.