Pacifiers. You may have heard a lot about them; what a blessed item they are, but also how harmful they can potentially be.
As a parent, it is understandable to seek the best advice about whether to use them or not. But when people come in all directions to give conflicting advice and to reveal the varying “truths” about pacifiers, it is easy to become confused.
Some mothers swear by using pacifiers as a means for soothing their babies, while others refuse to go near it at all. To this day, there is still much debate about its benefits and use.
What is a Baby Pacifier?
Babies are born with an instinct to suck. Some babies can even be seen to suck their thumb or fingers in their mothers’ womb!
They don’t have any other mechanism to control their distress, so sucking is a natural, self-comforting behaviour that helps them settle. The pacifier is a tool used to help them achieve this fulfilment.
Some may ask: why not allow the baby to suck their thumb instead?
When viewing the situation in the long term, while both the thumb and pacifier can be used, the latter can be permanently removed when it is time to lose this habit. The thumb, however, will always be available for the baby to continue sucking.
In the past, baby pacifiers were pretty much anything that was safe for babies to put into their mouths, for example, teething rings or rattles with rounded ends. Today, a baby pacifier is fundamentally an item shaped like a nipple attached to a handle.
A standard pacifier comprises of three different parts:
The teat is an artificial “nipple” that is placed in the baby’s mouth for them to sucked upon. It can be made of rubber, plastic or silicone.
The mouth shield is purposely designed be bigger than the baby’s mouth. It prevents the baby from taking the whole teat inside their mouths, which can potentially lead to swallowing or choking.
The handle is cleverly placed behind the oversized mouth shield so that you have a good saliva-free grip and can easily take the pacifier away from your baby.
Other words used to call pacifiers are binky, dummy, nubby, nuk, paci, plug, soother, soothie and teether. Perhaps you may even rename it as something else that both you and your baby would like!
What Age Should Babies Start Using Pacifiers?
If the baby is breastfed, the official advice is to wait until they are about four to six weeks old before giving them a pacifier. It is recommended that you don’t give them the pacifier until the baby gains weight, possible at around 10 days old.
Feeding needs to be prioritised and done as often as possible, if the baby isn’t gaining weight. You should also wait until your milk supply is well established and that you are satisfied with your baby’s breastfeeding routine.
When a mother commences breastfeeding, the use of pacifier should be delayed because it may lead to much confusion for the baby. Pacifiers feel very different inside a baby’s mouth than the mother’s nipple.
The former is longer and stiffer, and doesn’t require much effort for the baby to search for. It can just be pushed into the baby’s mouth, whereas the mother’s nipple is much shorter and softer, and not as easy for the baby to locate.
The action of the mouth involved in sucking a pacifier is also very different to sucking on the mother’s breast. If the baby frequently swaps from one to another, they become confused or hungry from not knowing how to draw milk from the breast correctly.
If the baby is bottle-fed, they can be given a pacifier right away. However, it is recommended that you first learn about what your baby’s signs are for to show that they are pain, have gas, are hungry and need to sleep before introducing the pacifier.
This is so that when the baby cries, the potential intimacy and connection gained from understanding your baby’s needs is not replaced by using a pacifier as temporary relief. Fully addressing the baby’s needs hands-on, instead of just preventing crying with a pacifier, is key to emotional nurturing.
Once a healthy feeding routine is established, you can feel free to start using a pacifier anytime.
How Do I Know If My Baby Should Use a Pacifier or Not?
As a parent, ensuring the happiness of your baby is undoubtedly one of your highest priorities.
Some babies can be soothed with rocking and cuddling, while others love to suckle even when they’re not hungry.
Using a pacifier isn’t a substitute for nurturing or feeding, but if your baby is still not content after you’ve tried doing all the things you usually do – feeding, burping, rocking, cuddling and playing with them – the pacifier may be a very helpful item to have in comforting your baby.
Here are some signs your baby can display to show that they are suitable for using a pacifier:
However, not every baby will show these signs of readiness, and you mightn’t know if pacifiers are suitable for your baby unless you allow your baby to try them out.
How to Use a Pacifier
If you are letting your baby use a pacifier for the first time, you may be surprised how simple the process is. Keep three important T’s in mind.
1 - Time
Make sure that your baby has been fed, so that they are not going to be terribly surprised by the lack of milk in the pacifier!
Find a quiet time for the both of you to introduce the use of a pacifier to your little one. This time is preferably not very near the next feeding time, otherwise your baby may become too tired for it.
2 - Temperament
Like with introducing all new things, it is much easier to do when the person is in a more positive mood.
Only start using the pacifier at a time when the baby is relaxed and happy; they will associate the pacifier with the nice atmosphere. If your baby is in distress or feeling grumpy, hold off the introduction until they are in a better mood.
You can encourage babies to use the pacifier by touching it gently to their cheeks, near the corners of their mouths.
You could also try rubbing the teat in small circular motions around the baby’s lips. It should be second nature for your baby to open up and turn their mouth over to the pacifier to suckle.
However, not every baby will readily accept a pacifier immediately, even when the three T’s are done correctly. Here are some reasons why they may not want to use one, and how to overcome these problems.
4 - Taste
It is possible that your baby has never tasted anything else apart from milk, whether it be breastmilk or formula. They may reject the teat at first because it tastes new, different and confusing.
To encourage your baby to take the pacifier, try dipping it in breastmilk or formula, and then offer it to them. Once the baby starts associating their pacifier with the taste they had grown accustomed to, they will be happier to accept it.
5 - Type
Of course, your little one is indeed a unique person with preferences. Just because other babies particularly love one kind of pacifier doesn’t necessarily mean that your baby is going to love it too.
Don’t be discouraged. Try out a couple different types of pacifiers. You may come to realise that the reason for your baby to reject the pacifier could be because of its texture, shape, and perhaps even its colour!
Should your baby not show any interest in the pacifier altogether, don’t force them to. Simply try to introduce it again at another time or date.
However, if the baby continuously resists using the pacifier, even after a number of attempts – with breaks in between each attempt – then you’ll have to accept the message your baby is giving you and look for an alternative method to soothing them and making sure they are content.
How Many Kind of Pacifiers Are There?
Nowadays, there are so many different types of pacifiers in stores to choose from, parents are unsure which ones are the best to get for their babies.
Instead of buying and trying out each kind of pacifier, this is a little guide as to what choices you can narrow down to for your baby.
First, here are a few things to consider before buying a pacifier:
Two main different types of pacifiers can be found:
1 – Multi-Piece Pacifier
As the most common type of pacifier in the stores, it is composed of individual parts – the teat, the mouth shield and the handle. All of these pieces are made individually before they are put together as a single pacifier.
These are usually older pacifiers in the store. They are less recommended to be used because there is a chance of them being disassembled by the baby, and their parts ingested or choked upon.
Also, due to the gaps between each part, this pacifier type can trap dirt more easily so it needs to be cleaned very thoroughly.
2 – Single Piece Pacifier
These can also be called one-piece pacifiers. They are made of one moulded piece of material; plastic, silicone or latex. They can also be a combination of these three materials).
The pieces cannot be pulled apart, which is advantageous in minimising the possibility of it being a choking hazard. They are also much easier to clean.
There are two types of pacifiers in different shapes that you can easily find in the market:
1 – Orthodontic pacifiers
These are recommended to prevent dental problems after use. This is due to their unique shape and flattened teat, just like a natural nipple. This type of pacifier encourages natural sucking, enhances oral and jaw development, and reduces the risk of an open bite compared to a regular pacifier.
2 – Regular pacifiers
These look like a traditional baby bottle’s pacifier, with a rounded nipple. Although orthodontic pacifiers have its benefits, most babies still prefer the regular type of pacifiers, probably because of the way they suck.
It is important to keep in mind that both types can lead to having an open bite later in life, but limited and appropriate usage will definitely lessen the dental damage.
The size of pacifiers is segregated according to age group:
Different brands of pacifiers may offer different sizes. It is recommended to follow the guideline for the appropriate age group when choosing one for your baby.
An oversized pacifier can cause your baby to choke and an undersized pacifier may not provide much satisfaction to your baby. Therefore, your baby may reject it.
Some pacifiers come in different sizes, and some are only suitable for a certain age group. Be sure to check the recommended age for each pacifier carefully before purchase.
Anything that goes into your little one’s mouth is extremely important. Some pacifiers comprise of three detachable parts, so if they fall apart, they can pose as a serious choking hazard.
In this case, give the teat a good pull beforehand. If it detaches from the other parts, the baby will sooner or later remove it without much difficulty.
Most pacifiers now come in one piece. These will not come apart and are therefore more baby-friendly.
The teat can be made of one of the three main types of materials.
1 – Silicone
This is the material that is generally used for teats. Silicone is easy to sanitise and it is less likely to retain odours. These teats are usually dishwasher-safe unless otherwise stated on the product packaging. It is also rare to be allergic to this material.
2 – Latex
This material is softer than silicone, as well as being more flexible, so this is a favourited material for many babies. Unfortunately, because it is so soft, latex teats are much easier to suffer from wear and tear, compared to other materials.
These pacifiers usually need to be washed by hand, unless it is stated to be dishwasher-safe. Another downside to latex pacifiers is that some babies may have latex allergy. If that is the suspected case, these pacifiers should be avoided.
3 – Hard Plastic
This material is the least common for making teats. Although plastic is durable and very easy to keep clean, many babies do not like the feeling of it in their mouths.
This plastic can also create a rough edge after prolonged use, which can cut the inner cheeks of the baby’s mouth. Plastic teats are not a recommended item for your baby.
It is important that the pacifier is easy to keep clean and sterile, since it is something that is put into the baby’s mouth a lot of the times. However not all pacifiers are so durable when it comes down to washing them, so it is wise to read the instructions carefully for each individual pacifier in order to figure out the best way to clean them.
Ideally, choose pacifiers that are able to withstand being boiled in water or can be used in a dishwasher, like most silicone pacifiers. This will decrease cleaning time and make the pacifier more accessible and convenient to use.
The colour of the pacifier is probably not something you would consider much about before purchasing, but you may be surprised that it indeed plays a role in choosing the best one for you and your baby.
Firstly, some babies have an eye for colour. It is very possible that they may reject a pacifier solely because of its colour, so it won’t do much harm to experiment with your baby first to find out their preference.
And secondly, it is best to choose a pacifier that is brightly coloured and is easy to spot from afar. This is because you will most likely misplace your pacifiers. Your baby could spit it out when you’re not looking, it could roll away under furniture, or sometimes, in all the hustle and bustle, you could simply have misplaced it.
It is recommended to avoid using clear pacifiers because they aren’t as easy to spot, and so are more prone to being lost. However, if you happen to come across a certain kind of pacifier – regardless of colour – that is adored by your baby, don’t hesitate to purchase more of the same!
Pacifiers can come in a variety of creative shapes and designs. Some popular styles include:
1 – Stuffed Animal Pacifier
This style of pacifier usually comes in one piece, so it is safe for your baby to use. It is very easy to locate if you ever misplace it and is favourited by many parents and babies.
2 – Novelty Pacifier
Taking creativity to the next level, there are many novelty pacifiers out in stores. These pacifiers come in all kinds of funny and unique designs; moustaches, crooked teeth, big lips and many more.
Not only will these soothe your baby, they can offer a bit of entertainment for the rest of the family!
3 – Feeding Pacifier
These silicone pacifiers are suitable for babies six months and older. This item enables your baby to be fed through a pacifier.
Simply freeze pieces of fruit before placing them in the feeding pacifier. As your baby sucks away, they will get a tasty, refreshing treat – a perfect way to cool down in the summer months.
It has been reported that using feeding pacifiers can help fussy babies to transition to solid foods. Cleaning up during mealtime is also made easier.
4 – Glow in the Dark Pacifier
These pacifiers give off a lovely glow in dark surroundings, making it easy to find if your baby drops their pacifier in the dark. Many mothers also reported that babies sleep better due to “night light” effect of the pacifier, as it gives off a nice, soft light.
BPA or Phthalates
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastic bottles. It is used to make the material clear and shatter-free.
Phthalates is another chemical used to soften plastics, increase their flexibility and improve the durability of the product. Many studies show that BPA and phthalate can damage our health, so parents are told to avoid baby products that don’t proclaim they are BPA or phthalate free.
BPA is not used in the manufacture of baby bottles anywhere in the European Union and phthalates have not been used in pacifiers in the United States since 1999. Therefore, if you purchase a pacifier that is made in these areas, you should be safe from the chemicals.
But if you are concerned about a product, there is no harm to do research beforehand or check with the company.
How to Sanitise Pacifiers
Always check the labels of pacifiers before cleaning them to avoid damage – pacifiers made of different materials must be washed in different ways. Silicone pacifiers can be washed in the dishwasher regularly, using the top rack, but latex pacifiers generally aren’t dishwasher-safe.
Before the very first use, wash the pacifier with soap and water and rinse it well. You can also choose to boil the pacifier for 5 minutes to get rid of any chemical residue.
Remove it from the water, ensure that it is completely cooled down before handing it back to your baby. After each use, keep it clean by washing it with hot, soapy water, and rinsing it well every time.
A way to prevent fungus is to soak the pacifier in a ratio of 1:1 white vinegar and water for a few minutes once a day. Remember to rinse well with clean water and air-dry completely.
If the baby drops their pacifier onto the floor at home, you can just rinse it well in hot water. If it is dropped outside, use hot, soapy water. Carry a spare pacifier when you take your baby outside, just in case this happens.
Do’s and Don’ts of Using Pacifiers
While every baby’s experience with pacifiers differ, there are some general guidelines you can follow to ensure the well-being of your baby.
Here are a list of do’s and don’ts you might have come across or will meet when your baby uses the pacifier.
Wait and observe if your baby really needs a pacifier.
Always check to see if your baby has problems that could be solved without the use of a pacifier.
For example, if they are hungry, it may be time for a feed. If your baby is tired, they should be coaxed to sleep. If your baby is bored, try playing with them first.
You don’t want your baby to develop a habit or become too reliant on the pacifier, so offer other remedies first rather than automatically giving it to them.
Don’t give your baby a pacifier instead of feeding them, to delay the feeding or as a substitute for your attention.
It is understandable that there are times where your baby must wait to be fed or comforted, for example, in public or far away from home at a place that is inconvenient for feeding.
In these instances, the pacifier should be used. However, do keep in mind that a pacifier isn’t a substitute for any aspect of emotional nurturing.
It is important to learn about and know what your baby wants, depending on their responses.
Always keep the pacifier as clean as possible.
Before its first use, sterilise the pacifier as you would with any other bottle-feeding teat. Silicone pacifiers or one-piece pacifiers may be easier to keep clean.
Don’t dip or coat the pacifier in sweet foods such as sugar, honey or orange juice to stop your baby crying.
Sweet foods and drinks can this lead to tooth decay, and honey can lead to botulism, which is a type of food poisoning.
Check pacifiers regularly and replace them every two months before damage is done to them.
All pacifiers eventually wear off after some period of use, and replacements will depend on how often it is used and how vigorously your baby sucks on it.
Cracks, tears, splits and holes in the teat can trap germs which can make you baby sick. If you find any problems, throw out the pacifier right away and buy a new one.
Take extra care if the baby is on medication, like pain relievers, antibiotics or vitamins.
Some of these medicines can cause the material in the pacifier to wear down, so it is advised not to give babies the pacifier immediately after taking medicine.
If the baby is upset, most likely due to the taste of the medicine, try and find other remedies to help comfort the little one.
Don’t tie a pacifier around a baby’s neck or to their crib.
The cord or long ribbon can strangle the baby and the situation can potentially be fatal. Instead, it is much safer for you to attach the pacifier to their clothes with a clip.
These usually have short ribbons attached to them, and are made especially for this purpose. You can see them readily available in the store when you buy pacifiers.
Find the right times to offer your baby the pacifier, tailored to their needs and schedule.
As mentioned previously, you can give it between feedings when you know he's not hungry. You can also try giving it at nap time and bedtime.
If the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth while they are sleeping, there’s no need to put it back in.
This indicates that your baby is soothed and comfortable; the main goal has been reached. When babies are about four months old, they may wake up wanting their pacifier, but are unable to retrieve it themselves.
If this is doing more harm than good to their sleep routine, it is probably best to wean off the pacifier. Although this may seem daunting at first, the baby will eventually get used to sleeping soundly without it.
Take good care of the pacifier.
Choose one that is safe and appropriate for your baby. Don't clean a pacifier with your mouth!
There have been cases when the baby’s pacifier had fallen onto the ground, and the mother puts it into her own mouth to clean it, before proceeding to pop it back into her infant’s mouth.
Adult saliva contains bacteria that can cause cavities in your baby's teeth. It is best to keep the pacifier clean by rinsing it with warm water.
Don’t let your baby chew on a pacifier.
It could break down and become a choking hazard. If your baby doesn’t have teeth yet and is less than 6 months old, try pulling the pacifier out of their mouth slightly and letting it go for your baby to suck it back in.
This encourages the baby to suck and to forget about biting. If your baby is teething and is six months or older, it could be time to get a more durable item, like a teether, for itchy, inflamed gums.
Never try making your own pacifiers!
There are stories of parents who made them out of bottle nipples, caps or other materials. These are dangerous, can fall apart easily and can cause choking and death.
What Age Should Babies Stop Using Pacifiers?
There are many different opinions voiced on when to stop your baby from using the pacifier.
Some claim that is a good idea to wean your baby off the pacifier before they turn one year old, since it will be easier to do than when the baby is older. This is because, before the age of one, your baby hasn’t had enough time or the cognitive ability to become attached to a pacifier.
Others say that in order to prevent your baby from developing an overbite, it is best to stop before the age of two years old, and definitely before they are four years old, when mouth and tongue habits are more difficult to change.
Some parents are not worried about weaning their children off the pacifier at all, because they believe that children will eventually grow out of this phase anyway. At around the age of two, children begin to have better strategies for managing their distress.
Pacifiers will be phased out as they develop skills to replace being “pacified”. Reports indicate that most children willingly give up using pacifiers at the age of three or four.
Difficulties With Weaning Off the Pacifier
The main difficulty that you may face when stopping your child from using the pacifier is the unwillingness of your little one.
This is very common for children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old, because this is the time when they form strong feelings of attachment to their pacifiers. So, when you take the pacifier away without much preparation, it will most likely result in crying, screaming and tantrum-throwing.
Another problem could be lack of sleep, for both the child and the parents. This is because of the reliance that the child had built upon using the pacifier to aid sleeping, and so, they do not know how to cope without one. The child could then turn to the parents for comfort, resulting in disturbed sleep for the whole family.
How to Wean Your Child Off the Pacifier
It’s great that pacifiers can soothe your baby, but there is a stage when they grow up and cannot rely on it anymore.
So how do you deal with that stage? While some parents suggest the child to “grow out of it” and reject the pacifier at a certain age, others prefer to take it away as early as possible. It is up to you to decide which method you should use that benefits your child the most.
Here are some tried-and-tested ways you can wean your child off using the pacifier.
1 - Wean off Early
This could be as early as six months old to one year old. In the past few years, doctors say that the earlier you take the pacifier away the better, because the baby has not had enough time or the cognitive ability to become attached to a pacifier.
2 - Go Cold Turkey / Use Authority
If you believe that you, as the parent, should set rules of authority early and have the power to take the pacifier away, this is your method of choice. Just say a firm “no” and don’t waver.
3 - Gentle & Gradually
To make it easier for your child to adapt, try a slower weaning process. Restrict the pacifier to certain times, like bedtime, or certain places, like your child’s bed/crib. Gradually restrict to certain days before eventually taking it all away.
4 - Bad Taste
For the very attached child, one way to wean them off the pacifier is to make it taste bad. You can do this by dipping it in something sour, like lemon juice or vinegar. The unappealing taste could discourage the child from ever using a pacifier again.
5 - “Binky Fairy”
Binky Fairy is a small magical creature who may help your child wean off the pacifier. Simply tell the child that if they leave the pacifier under the pillow, it will be collected by the Binky Fairy and replaced by a coin.
6 - Give It Away
If your child is old enough to understand the idea of not using the pacifier, encourage the procedure of giving away the pacifier as a good deed, or trading it in for something special, like a new toy.
7 - Offer Alternatives
When you first take away the pacifier, you'll probably need to find other ways to soothe your baby. Try rocking, gently swinging, soft singing, and gentle massages to help your baby settle down without the aid of a pacifier. For older children, try giving them soft blankets or stuffed animals to cuddle with.
8 - Story Time
Reading books to your child is a wonderful way to bond and encourage their love of reading. It is also a great opportunity to inspire the behaviour you would like to see and help children deal with necessary changes. So, it is worth a try to look for books in the library or in shops and read to your child about giving up the pacifier.
9 - "Lose" It
This is not recommended as it portrays a bad habit of constantly misplacing something, but it is still mentioned here as it does work for parents who are desperate. Using the excuse of genuinely losing a pacifier can help a stubborn child to wean. However, it is much preferable to try out the other methods mentioned above.
Pacifiers have not always had the best rep, with warnings about it being a potential choking hazard, toxicity, and the cause of future dental problems.
However, if used properly, it can be a wonderful gem that helps your baby feel at ease and enables you to have a peaceful family evening.