Baby Pacifiers: Yay or Nay? The Truth About Using Pacifiers

If you’re preparing to welcome home a precious new baby, you’ve probably been stocking up on onesies, diapers, wraps and carriers, and other baby gear. But what about those baby pacifiers? Are pacifiers good or bad?

If you’re on the fence about pacifier usage, then this article is for you. We’ll answer:

  • What is the history of baby pacifiers?
  • What are the pros and cons of baby pacifiers?
  • When should you use a baby pacifier?
  • When should you stop using a baby pacifier?
  • Are there natural alternatives to baby pacifiers?

History of Baby Pacifiers

With their cute little sayings, colorful shields, and stylish pacifier clips, today’s baby pacifiers are somewhat of an accessory. But they didn’t always start out that way. The earliest baby pacifiers were anything but stylish. In fact, the earliest pacifiers were… noisy.

In ancient Rome, parents used rattles to both entertain babies and ward off evil spirits. Eventually the concept of the rattle morphed into a pacifier (of sorts). Coral was attached to the end of the rattle, so baby could suck on the coral. If coral was not available, babies were given wooden or stone beads, knotted rags, or pieces of animal bone. (source)

Eventually, babies would have other (more sanitary) options for sucking. In 1898, Thomas Borcher, an inventor from New Jersey, made the leap from the pacifiers of old to what we would recognize as a baby pacifier today. Dubbed the “nipple holder,” Borcher filed for a patent for a device to hold a fake nipple for babies to suck on. In 1902, Sears and Roebuck jumped on the bandwagon and sold a pacifier—an ivory ring with a rubber nipple attached on the top.

Baby pacifier patent

(image source)

Are Baby Pacifiers Good or Bad?

Somewhere along the way from coral and linen rags to silicone, glow-in-the-dark “I love mommy” pacifiers, baby pacifiers got a bad rap. In 1879, a German pediatrician named S. Linden denounced pacifier usage, claiming it lead to mouth deformities and immorality as a result of pleasure-seeking habits.

We now know that sucking is a very natural, normal thing for babies—it’s instinctual, after all!—and a baby’s need to suck is perfectly a-okay. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says:

“Pacifiers do not cause any medical or psychological problems.” 

But that doesn’t mean pacifiers are always good. The AAP notes that baby pacifiers should never be used to replace or delay meals or because it’s easier for you. 

What Are the Biggest Concerns With Pacifiers Today?

Still, modern mamas hesitate to pick up a baby pacifier for fear of nipple confusion—a problem when a baby cannot easily alternate between breast/bottle or breast/pacifier. Concerned mamas may worry that if nipple confusion arises, the baby may choose a favorite and neglect the breast.

But is nipple confusion real? Even experts disagree when it comes to nipple confusion.  Dr. Marianne Neifert, author of Dr. Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding, contends that the majority of breastfed babies have no issue switching between nipple types. She believes that only babies who already have nursing issues tend to prefer artificial nipples, which leads to the idea that nipple preference, not confusion, is to blame. Dr. Sears says breastfed babies should not be given artificial nipples during the first three to four weeks to avoid nipple confusion and give mama’s milk a chance to regulate

La Leche League provides a few strategies to prevent nipple confusion:

  1. Wait until breastfeeding is well established. 
  2. If baby needs to be supplemented, consider other alternatives like a feeding cup or a supplemental nursing system
  3. If you give birth in a hospital, inform staff of your wish to not give a pacifier or supplement to baby

No matter which belief you subscribe to, it’s important to remember that a pacifier should not be used as a substitute for a nursing session. 

Bottom line: If used correctly, baby pacifiers are not an evil thing destined to derail your breastfeeding relationship. But there are a few pros and cons to consider.

Pros of Baby Pacifiers

Babies are born with a strong urge to suck; that reflex is there to ensure that baby receives nutrition. However, sucking is also comforting to babies. In addition to providing an outlet to soothe baby, there are plenty of other reasons to keep a pacifier on hand. Baby pacifiers can:

  • Reduce the risk of SIDS: According to one study published in the journal Pediatrics, pacifier usage, particularly when placed to sleep, significantly reduced the risk of SIDS.
  • Analgesia: Another study found that sucking on a pacifier helped reduce anxiety and pain. This is particularly useful when baby undergoes minor procedures such as a heel stick test or a lip tie or tongue tie revision.
  • Shorter hospital stays: Studies show that preterm infants who used pacifiers had shorter hospital stays, though you’ll want to be mindful of how this may affect your breastfeeding relationship.
  • Provide comfort when baby is full: Even after a baby’s tummy is filled, he/she may still have the desire to suck. A breastfed baby may spurt and sputter if put to the breast at this point (plus, some moms need a break for their sore nipples!). A pacifier allows baby to suck even on a full belly.

Cons of Pacifiers

Like any well-researched decision, you’ll want to know the cons of pacifier usage before you decide to purchase one for your baby. Pacifiers can:

  • Cause attachment: For some children, discontinuing the use of the pacifier can be a difficult and emotional journey.
  • Cause dental problems: Studies show that pacifier usage beyond the age of 3 can contribute to bite issues. The key here is the duration of pacifier use.
  • Cause candida (yeast) and ear infections: Have you heard that pacifier usage contributes to ear infections? The pacifier itself does not cause ear infections or candida issues. Rather, an unwashed pacifier can harbor bacteria. A UK study found that pacifiers can harbor the bacteria that commonly causes ear infections. Latex pacifiers were much more likely to harbor candida and bacteria than silicone versions. Keep your baby’s pacifier clean, wash it daily, and never handle it by the nipple.

When to Start Using a Pacifier

Now that you know the pros and cons of using a pacifier, if you decide to use a baby pacifier, you’ll need a little more guidance on timing.

Breastfeeding mamas should ideally offer baby a pacifier after: 

  • Breastfeeding is established, around the 4-6 week mark.
  • Nursing. Always offer the breast first.

Note: If baby isn’t gaining weight quickly enough or if mama’s supply dips, forego the pacifier (for now) and keep baby at the breast as much as possible.

When to Stop Using a Pacifier

Ideally, a baby should be weaned from the pacifier around 6 months. — Dr. Sears

This does not mean that baby must wean from the breast at this time. By weaning from the pacifier early, you won’t have a big battle getting rid of it. Plus, baby has usually outgrown colic, acid reflux, spitting up, and other “4th trimester” issues and may not need the extra soothing. You will also eliminate the risk of the dental issues associated with long-term pacifier usage.

Here are some strategies to help wean your baby off his/her pacifier: 

  • Trade it for another toy
  • Tell stories about animals or other children who have given up pacifiers
  • Limit pacifier use to special times, like nap time or car time, and slowly decrease usage
  • Use quiet and relaxing substitutes, like listening to soothing music, reading, or snuggling with mama

Natural Pacifiers

So you’ve decided to use a pacifier for your baby, but which one should you get? What are the best pacifiers? Do you need to buy ones labeled specially as a newborn pacifier?

The basics of a good pacifier

  • Only use one piece pacifiers (to avoid a choking hazard)
  • Purchase age-appropriate pacifiers
  • Avoid latex pacifiers
  • Use a short clip designed for pacifiers if you’re attaching it to baby (never attach a pacifier to baby with a string or necklace)

The best natural pacifiers

  • Hevea: Made of 100% natural rubber and super easy to clean
  • Natursutten: 100% natural rubber, made in Italy, and the no-crack, one piece design makes this pacifier easy to keep clean
  • Ecopiggy: 100% natural rubber

Natural Alternatives to Pacifier Use

Not on board with baby pacifiers? That’s okay too! Instead, use these tried-and-true methods to soothe baby:

  • Massage
  • Soft music
  • Rocking
  • Gently “shhhushing”
  • Babywearing
  • Skin-to-skin
  • Sucking on mom or dad’s pinky (wash your hands first though!)
  • And of course, just suckling at the breast!

How About You?

We’d love to hear your experiences with baby pacifiers. Did you offer a pacifier to your baby? If so, how long did your baby use it? How did you wean your baby? Comment below!

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 75,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

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2 Comments

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  1. Something not noted here is that if a mother is practicing NFP and utilizing breastfeeding as a natural way to postpone fertility and space pregnancies is that using a pacifier is a big NO. The 7 Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding by Shelia Kippley explains the importance of pacifying baby at the breast. Simply another factor to consider when deciding to use a pacifier.

    Now, can this be a big sacrifice? Yes. is it worth it in the long run? Yes! My daughter was very high needs and loved to nurse for comfort, so I taught her how to nurse in a sling and carrier and then I could get everything I needed done during the day and we were both happy. Plus my fertility didn’t return until 13 months postpartum. My friends who also follow the 7 standards experienced a delay in fertility closer to 24 months postpartum!

  2. I have 2 thumb suckers, uhh. I had 2 that took pacifiers, one that took nothing, and a 3 month old who likes to get his fist but is trying for his thumb. It is just tough when they are little, but I will be trying a few of the alternatives, thanks!

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