Pacifiers - A Positive or a Pitfall?

Jill Bertelsen
It is common that a pacifier is a necessity when it comes to preparing for baby. Along with diapers, wipes, and bottles, new parents stock up on pacifiers as well.  There is debate about which one will work best, what size to buy, and of course which one is the trendiest. But do they really deserve the attention they are receiving? There are many benefits to using a pacifier, but there are also some potential drawbacks as well. Let’s look at a few.

Pacifier Positives:

Soothes a fussy baby:

 Babies are born with the natural instinct to suck. Sucking on a pacifier creates a soothing sensation that helps calm a baby down. According to Dr. Harvey Karp and research found in his book The Happiest Baby on the Block, sucking on a pacifier can lower your baby’s heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels. This is a great comfort tool to offer after shots, exams at a doctor’s office, or other types of discomfort.

Eases travel:

Sucking on a pacifier can be a great way to provide temporary comfort to an infant during long car rides when it is not possible to feed or find comfort in a parent’s arms. It also can ease the discomfort while flying. During elevation changes, our ears “pop”  to adjust and maintain an equilibrium. Babies are unable to do that themselves through yawning or swallowing, so sucking on a pacifier during take off or landing will help protect your baby’s ears from the pressure.

Reduces SIDS:

 There has been research that shows that pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) when a child is put to sleep for a nap or bedtime with a pacifier. It still holds true even if the pacifier falls out after the infant falls asleep. Though there is not a ton of reasoning for why this is, it has been recommended by the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), the Mayo Clinic, and other trusted sources.


Pacifiers are easy to carry with you, simple to use, and can be a quick fix to crying or fussiness. Though it should never be used to hold off hunger or prolong a feeding, a pacifier is a quick resource to use to calm your baby when your arms are busy.

Helps Baby Fall Asleep:

Because of the calming technique a pacifier provides, it can help your infant relax. Coupled with a few other steps (covered in our Infant Sleep Course at, sucking a pacifier can calm your baby down enough to drift off to sleep.

Pacifier Pitfalls:

Can cause nipple confusion

Sucking on a mother’s nipple for nursing requires a much different technique than sucking on a pacifier or a bottle. To nurse, babies open their mouths wide and pull the milk out with long draws. For a bottle, a baby must bite the nipple in order for the milk to flow. Introducing a pacifier or bottle before nursing is well established may cause your baby to be confused which nipple he is feeding from.

May interfere with breastfeeding

Similar to nipple confusion, some babies may come to enjoy bottle feeding more because it requires less work to drink from a bottle than to nurse from the mother. Using a bottle nipple or a pacifier too early may create a “lazy feeder.”

Can create a sleep crutch

When used too much, a pacifier can become a dependency for sleep. Some babies will wake in the middle of the night because the pacifier fell out, and is unable to fall back to sleep until it is replaced. It may also be difficult to put your baby to sleep without it, which can be a dreaded tragedy if it is lost or forgotten to be put in the diaper bag on the go!

Might lead to dental problems

Pacifier use may cause dental problems in your child if it is used for too long. Most doctors advise to have your baby off the pacifier by one or two years old to avoid misalignment of the teeth or jaw problems. Check with your pediatrician to see what is best for your child.

Because there are many different opinions about pacifier use, talk with your pediatrician and your partner to decide if using a pacifier is best for your child. Please do not feel ashamed if you choose to use one and your neighbor chooses not to. There is no right or wrong decision, but it is good to be informed of the benefits or potential consequences of pacifier use. If you do choose to use one, however, follow these safety tips.

Safety tips to remember:

  • Do not use any sweeteners or sugars on the end of a pacifier.
  • Do not use any pacifiers made out of yellow rubber as they can deteriorate and release unwanted chemicals to your baby.
  • Keep the pacifier sanitized with hot, soapy water. Avoid cleaning it with your own saliva to avoid passing germs.
  • Do not attach any strings or cords to your baby’s pacifier due to risk of strangulation.
  • Wait until breastfeeding is well established to introduce a pacifier to avoid nipple confusion.