As a parent, perhaps the pacifier is the hardest habit to help your child overcome. While many believe that allowing your baby to use a pacifier causes more harm than good, a 2007 study published by the Academy of General Dentistry showed that there are both positive and negative effects each parent should consider.
In addition to providing comfort and contentment to a fussy or sleepy baby, recent research has shown that sucking on a pacifier reduces a child’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Children who use pacifiers when they nap or sleep at night do not slumber as deeply as other children, which makes it possible for the infant to be aroused should they stop breathing.
Of course, there are also negative effects of pacifier sucking that parents should be aware of. If pacifier sucking continues too far into the toddler years, problems in the development of the roof of the mouth and the alignment of teeth may develop. That’s why the American Dental Association recommends that infants stop using a pacifier by the age of two. If a child stops sucking his or her pacifier by age two, most development and alignment problems will be corrected naturally within about six months.
There is also a possibility that prolonged pacifier use can lead to increased risk of ear infections. Dr. Maria Smith, an Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson, stated that “continuous sucking on a pacifier can cause the auditory tubes to become abnormally open, which allows secretions from the throat to seep into the middle ear.” This transmission of bacteria from such secretions could lead to an acute middle ear infection. By helping your child to break the pacifier habit, you are preventing them from more pain and discomfort caused by infection in the ears.
Here are some pacifier safety pointers and other recommendations from the Academy of General Dentistry:
- Restrict pacifier use to when your baby is falling asleep.
- Don’t allow the pacifier shield to sit under your child’s lips inside their mouth; it could result in severe lacerations.
- Find and use pacifiers that have ventilation holes in the shield. These are important if your infant’s pacifier becomes lodged in their throat.
- Use a pacifier with a symmetrical nipple; it helps ensure that the pacifier stays in the correct position.
- To avoid risk of strangulation, never put a cord around your child’s neck to keep them from losing the pacifier. Instead, look for pacifiers that have rings.
- Wean your child off pacifier sucking by the time they are two years old.
- Dispose of the pacifier after use; it is unsanitary to keep it, give it away, or let other infants use it – even if it’s been washed.