Pacifiers are tools that provide great comfort between feedings for both baby and parents. These suckable security blankets not only help with sleep and fussiness but also help in preventing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The baby uses a pacifier to self-soothe and parents get to relax with a self-soothed baby. It’s simple and it works. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any downsides to binky. Dental damage can be a real concern so doctors advocate a careful — albeit fairly uncomplicated — approach.
“There is no magic to introducing the pacifier,” says pediatrician Dr. Karen Breach of the Carolinas HealthCare System. “Just give it to them. Babies will suck whatever you put in their mouths, so you just give it to them when they seem to be fussy and they don’t need anything else — hey don’t seem hungry and their diapers are clean — just give it to them.”
How to Introduce a Baby to a Pacifier
- Wait until a consistent feeding pattern has been established so as not to derail breastfeeding.
- Simply offer the child a pacifier by putting it in their mouth.
- Don’t worry if a child prefers to use their fingers rather than a pacifier
- There is no need to take the pacifier away before three-years-old
It’s tempting for parents to resort to using the pacifier the first seemingly endless night of feedings, just to get some sleep. But doctors stress that it’s essential to wait until there’s a solid feeding pattern, complete with established latching, before switching to the plug.
“That’s going to vary from family to family, but certainly the average would be about two weeks,” says Breach. “It can be used after breastfeeding is well established.”
Some kids simply won’t take to the pacifier, and that’s okay as well. They’ll very likely suck on their fingers (or their parents’ fingers) in between feedings. Digit sucking carries its own antiquated stigma, but it’s natural. It’s an instinct. “Babies have a natural need to suck,” Breach says. “Sucking is one of the earliest instincts, and it’s a comfort mechanism.”
Beyond simple comfort and satisfying instincts, pacifiers (or any other oral apparatus or digit children choose) serve myriad purposes, among them quelling often misguided (though well-intentioned) parental instincts. When a baby cries, parents generally think that she or he is either soiled or hungry. The instinct, then, is to immediately present a breast or bottle. That can lead to overfeeding, Breach says, which results in discomfort, dreaded diaper blowouts, and also establishes an early path to childhood obesity.
Often, the baby is simply seeking comfort, and that comfort comes from sucking. Paired with a solid cuddle session, the comforts provided by a pacifier extends to parents, who experience a little calm and quiet — right up until the thing must be taken away. And it will eventually have to be taken away. Once a baby grows into a toddler, the constant sucking of a paci or fingers can indeed result in dental problems. And once a pacifier seemingly becomes an extension of the body, taking it away can make parenting seem like a deleted scene from Trainspotting.
Still, Breach says that parents shouldn’t be in too big a rush to wean their children off the pacifier if they find comfort in it. Considering the life-altering milestones that hit in rapid succession — potty training, walking, big-kid beds, daycare, and the like — she says parents shouldn’t feel bad about keeping a pin in their little grenades, particularly when they’re taken out of their comfort zones. Age 3 is a solid target for ditching the paci, but if it needs to resurface from time to time, Breach says that’s fine.
“I am not bothered when parents come in with a 2-year-old with a pacifier. If the child is out of its comfort zone, if that calming device is needed, it’s ok,” she says. “I don’t really like seeing a kid talking around a pacifier, but It won’t go until kindergarten, it really won’t. Many children just let it go (on their own).”