Does My Baby Need a Pacifier?

Pediatrician and parenting expert author Dr. William Sears says that if your baby really wants a pacifier, “use it, don’t abuse it, and quickly try to lose it.”

Pacifiers can sure be useful. Not that I would know personally. I remember draped over the crib weeping, praying to God that my daughter would just keep the binky in her mouth for a half hour. But she didn’t. Ever. Because she had decided that I was the pacifier. I’ve heard that some mothers have better luck.

If you too are being used as a human pacifier, complete with the cracks and the bleeding, a pacifier might pacify you as well as your baby. Pacifiers also come in handy in those social situations where you really need baby to be quiet: the small family wedding, the graveside service, the red-eye flight, or the play you desperately want to see on the night you can’t find a babysitter. Pacifiers can also be a lifesaver when baby can’t get to mom. If mommy has to go to work, or wants to go get a massage, dad or grandma will probably want baby to have a pacifier!

Some pediatricians recommend not introducing the pacifier until baby is well established in his nursing routines. Even well-engineered pacifiers don’t feel the same as a human nipple, and if a baby is having trouble latching on, then a binky might only confuse him. But if you have a healthy, thriving, nursing baby who just needs a little bit more sucking than you wish to provide, you won’t hurt anything by investing $3 in a plastic pacifier.

The problem with pacifiers is that it is easy to overuse them, and too much use can lead to problems. A 1999 study found that binky babies tended to wean earlier than non-binky babies. (Some parents will find this to be good news. Some will not.) One study found that babies who used binkies were more likely to get ear infections. Babies who use pacifiers for too long (as in years) can develop an overbite. And prolonged pacifier use (as well as prolonged thumb sucking) can make baby’s teeth crooked.

Some pediatricians recommend allowing baby to suck a thumb or fingers instead of a pacifier. Some dentists and orthodontists disagree. The jury is still out on thumb vs. binky. But be warned, it’s more difficult to abolish the thumb habit than it is the binky habit. You can’t just throw her thumb out the window.

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