Should I give my baby a pacifier?
Babies are born with a natural sucking reflex which is essential for nourishment. Interestingly, ultrasound pictures show that babies already suck their thumb or hand in the womb, even though they get all their nutrients through the umbilical cord. This is because sucking also serves the purpose of self-regulation and pacification; it is a reflex as well as a desire and want.
Around 70 to 90 percent of infants show non-nutritive sucking, a behaviour that has the same effect as being rocked or maybe gently massaged. But in contrast to other pacification techniques where the child depends on a caregiver, sucking is a method of self-regulation. It’s a skill a baby can acquire to soothe and comfort themselves and to feel safe – a feeling which is vital for every child’s development.
In a nutshell, non-nutritive sucking is an innate desire for many children, and it plays an important role in their well-being.
What is best? Pacifier, thumb or another object?
Babies are generally not particular about the object and parents can influence the formation of a preference.
- Pacifier: accessibility and weaning can be controlled to prevent malocclusion of teeth (i.e. misalignment of the teeth), pacifiers are very safe and hygienic if used correctly
- Thumb: safe, but very difficult to control with high risk of malocclusion, not always hygienic
- Other objects (such as favourite toy, blanket): often unhygienic and not always safe (unsafe material, risk of aspiration of small parts), accessibility can be controlled
Although causality remains unproven, studies have shown an increased risk of acute otitis media in children aged 6 to 12 months using a pacifier.
Can I breastfeed and let my baby have a pacifier?
Yes. As long as breastfeeding is established before a pacifier is introduced, your baby will not be confused.
Which pacifier is suitable and safe for my child?
When buying a pacifier, choose one for your baby’s age, with a rounded shield, and a teat that’s long, thin and preferably obliquely flattened. Make sure the pacifier has no tears or fissures, and is cleaned thoroughly with warm water and dishwashing liquid. Sterilize pacifiers in boiling water occasionally and replace them at least every 3 months.
Don’t dip pacifiers in honey or other sugary substances, as this can cause tooth decay.
Are there times when my infant shouldn’t have their pacifier?
Prolonged use of pacifiers increases the risk of malocclusion significantly, therefore it’s recommended that the use is limited to 6 hours per day. To support correct articulation, always have your child remove the pacifier when speaking. Don’t use the pacifier to trick your infant into skipping a meal. We suggest that beyond the age of 1 that you offer the pacifier only around sleep time for the purpose of self-soothing, and avoid continuous use during the day.
Although pacifiers are great for comforting, they cannot replace the care and attention of a loving parent or caregiver.
When and how do I wean my child from the pacifier?
The use beyond the age of 3 – 4 years old will increase the risk of malocclusion of teeth significantly. It is recommended, that shortly after your child turns 3, you choose a day on which you say good bye to all the pacifiers. Many families choose to do so with a small ritual, like hanging the pacifiers on a “pacifier-tree”, or sending them to the pacifier fairy. It’ll be easier for your child, when you talk about the upcoming weaning, when the child can take part in the ‘goodbye ritual’, and when you choose a stress-free moment (e.g. a moment not coinciding with the birth of a sibling, or a relocation).
Dental check-up for children can start between the ages of 6 months to 1 year. If your child is using a pacifier, we recommend that you do see a dentist by the age of 1 and let the dentist know that your child uses a pacifier so that they can look out for conditions associated with pacifier use.
If you have more questions or need more information on the use of pacifiers, we are always happy to answer them and talk to you about any topic regarding your child’s health.
Dr Nicole Plesko-Altermatt is a Swiss trained children’s doctor. She speaks French and German and can support your baby’s development. She is located at our Star Vista clinic. T: 6339 2727