Binky, paci, soother—whatever nickname you call it, a pacifier is one of the quickest ways to help a baby feel comfortable. While some people used to wonder if pacifiers were bad for babies, the modern consensus is that pacifiers actually help babies in a number of ways. Here's what you need to know about why babies love pacifiers, the benefits of pacifiers, and how to know when your newborn is ready for a pacifier.
Why do babies like pacifiers?
Even before they're born, babies have an innate sucking reflex. While in the womb, fetuses suck in amniotic fluid; immediately after birth, newborns are ready to suck from a breast or bottle. This primal instinct ensures that babies are able to feed right away.
But for babies, sucking is about more than nutrition alone. Babies also suck because the action of sucking is comforting. This kind of sucking, also known as non-nutritive sucking, explains why a baby might suck on their mother's breasts at the end of a feeding. That's why they like baby pacifiers, too: they create a sense of calm and contentment.
What are the benefits of pacifiers?
Most pediatricians recommend pacifiers because they have many benefits, many of which make parenting just a little easier. For one thing, pacifiers can satisfy a baby's need to suck beyond the breast or bottle. If your baby is fussy, offering a pacifier can, well, pacify them and help them self-soothe. (FYI, that's why pacifiers are so useful at nap time—it helps babies settle down and drift off to sleep.) If you're wondering, "can my baby sleep with a pacifier?" the answer is yes! Pacifiers also reduce the risk of SIDS, so as long as your baby is healthy, it's safe to let them fall asleep with a pacifier in their mouth.1 As they sleep, they'll either suck on it or release it, so the pacifier won't pose any risk of suffocation.
When can babies use pacifiers?
If your baby eats from a bottle, they can use a pacifier right away, since the sucking motions with bottles and pacifiers are the same. But it's wise to postpone the pacifier for a breastfed baby. Babies suck differently on breasts and pacifiers and learning a proper breastfeeding latch is important. Wait until you and your baby have established a steady breastfeeding rapport, including a good mouth latch. This may take a few weeks, but once your baby is eating well, you'll know when to introduce a pacifier without worry.2 If your baby doesn't take to the pacifier right away, that's okay—they'll use it if and when they are ready.
What is the best pacifier?
Pacifiers come in various sizes, from newborn pacifiers up to toddler-sized pacifiers, so choose the size that fits your baby best. A one-piece, dishwasher-safe variety is safest, as two-piece pacifiers could break apart and create a choking hazard - hat goes for bottle nipples and caps, too.3 Be sure to regularly boil a pacifier to sterilize it before giving it to a baby younger than six months. You should use dish soap and water to clean pacifiers for older babies and toddlers.
When is my child too old for a pacifier?
Many babies and toddlers will grow out of using pacifiers on their own. But if your child is still using a pacifier past the age of three, this habit can negatively affect the way their teeth and mouth grow. Talk with their pediatric dentist to help determine the best way for your child to give up their pacifier.
For now, a pacifier may be your baby's BFF, but midway through their first year, they'll start to put anything and everything into their mouth. Find out what they'll learn from this developmental milestone—and how you can be ready for it.