When it comes to giving your baby a pacifier, it often comes down to two schools of thought. Either you're destroying your child's ability to breastfeed and ruining their teeth, or you're being an amazing parent by letting them self-soothe and reducing the risk of SIDS.
Of course, parenting isn't so black-and-white. While both the naysayers and advocates are loud and opinionated, there are pros and cons to giving your child a pacifier (or binky, whatever your preferred term might be). It's up to the parent--perhaps with guidance from the pediatrician--to determine whether it's a smart move for their baby.
Reason to Offer a Pacifier
Some parents name pacifiers as the single piece of baby gear that saved their sanity during the tiresome first few months, due to its ability to assuage a wailing child. Other perks to pacifiers include:
- A decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Although there is no way to prevent SIDS, research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that babies who use pacifiers are less likely to die from this unexplainable condition. The study found this to be true even if the baby slept in less-than-desirable conditions, such as on their stomachs instead of their backs. However, AAP says an infant should always be placed on their backs on a firm sleep surface that does not contain any soft objects, pillows or bedding.
- Comfort during flights. If you're the traveling type, popping a pacifier if your child's mouth will help soothe the ache in their ears caused by air pressure changes. If that's not working, breastfeed or offer your baby a bottle to help "pop" their ears during takeoff and landing.
- A minute of solace. While it's not a good idea to delay feedings via a pacifier or use it instead of giving your attention, there are times when your baby needs comfort when you're not able to provide it, such as when you're driving and he's in his car seat.
- It's not a thumb. If you choose not to use a pacifier, your baby might choose for you by sucking on his thumb or fingers. While this provides the same soothing feeling as a pacifier, you can eventually dispose of a pacifier--the same can't be said of a thumb.
Reasons to Avoid a Pacifier
While there are perks to binkies--namely, a quiet child--there's reasons that some pediatricians and outspoken parents disapprove of their use. These include:
- Increased risk of ear infections. This probably won't be a problem in the youngest of infants, but middle ear infections might start to frequently surface after 6 months old if a child uses a pacifier regularly. The sucking reflex is strongest in newborns, so you could wean the child by his half-birthday to avoid possible medical issues.
- Potential for dental problems. Sucking on a pacifier or thumb can cause problems with teeth alignment and development of the mouth, according the American Dental Association. Even though your child might only have her baby teeth, which will fall out starting around age 6, prolonged sucking can also cause changes in the roof of the mouth, says the ADA.
- Meltdowns when you try to take it away. One of the biggest reasons a parent chooses not to start a pacifier is because she doesn't want to take it away and risk temper tantrums at some point. This can be a significant and painful process for some families that have toddlers who are very attached to their binky.
What Should a New Parent Do?
If you choose to use a pacifier, follow a few safety steps to ensure sanitation and proper development of your little one:
- Before your child is 6 months old, clean the pacifier regularly by boiling them or running them through the dishwasher. After 6 months, you can use regular dish soap and water to clean it.
- Pick a pacifier that's one piece, made of silicone and dishwasher safe. Note that pacifiers come in different sizes, and you should move up to the next size at the right age to ensure the pacifier properly fits into your child's mouth.
- Once you've found the binky your baby accepts, buy a few back-ups to prevent being caught unprepared.
- Ideally, wean your baby from the pacifier by six months to avoid middle ear infections. If that doesn't work, stop using the binky by age 2 to 3, when dental problems can start to surface. Talk to your pediatric dentist about the importance of a binky-free lifestyle for your toddler.
When it's time to wean your child from the pacifier, start by limiting it to naptime or sleep only. Be sure that all caregivers, such as grandparents or babysitters, know that the pacifier is on its final life so no one gets confused.
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