Q: I have received a variety of pacifiers as gifts at my baby showers but am not sure if starting on the pacifier path is the right thing for my baby. I know some parents have a hard time breaking the pacifier habit. Are there benefits to pacifiers that outweigh the bad?
A: There are both pros and cons to pacifier use. Pacifiers satisfy your baby's instinctual need to suck, which provides comfort to the baby and can give parents a few moments of quiet. They can be particularly soothing when babies are facing a medical procedure like getting a shot or blood test. Pacifiers also have been shown in studies to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. The benefit comes from placing the pacifier in your baby's mouth at bedtime but do not replace it once your little one falls asleep.
While pacifiers soothe babies, continuous pacifier use puts your baby at a higher risk for middle ear infections due to fluid buildup in the ears. There's also some disagreement about the concept of "nipple confusion," in newborns who are breastfed. However, some babies have a really strong oral need and want to suck continuously, which can be detrimental to the mom's breasts. So, in those babies, a pacifier may be beneficial. On the other hand, some babies gag when you try to give them a pacifier, so those babies certainly do not need one.
There's no one right answer about pacifier use. Every parent you ask will have their own opinion. You will have to follow your gut. If you choose to use a pacifier, be sure to practice good hygiene as they can end up being a gold mine for germs.
— Nita Shumaker, M.D., Galen North Pediatrics; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society