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What is a Pacifier?

Some pacifiers are made specifically for babies who are teething.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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A pacifier is a device designed to soothe babies when they are upset or teething. The basic design includes a flexible rubber nipple, a plastic mouth shield, and a handle. They come in a range of colors and many pacifiers are designed to be chilled or heated to alleviate the pains of teething. Some pacifiers also include bright colors or light up to stimulate the baby.

Nursing babies may fuss when they are separated from the breast or bottle. While some parents try feeding the baby to calm it, use of a pacifier may be just as effective unless the baby is actually hungry, because the infant is merely seeking a distraction or an enrichment of its environment. Because infants are very tactile and interested in the world around them, a pacifier can help the baby to stay calmer and more focused, and will often stop a baby from crying.

Pacifiers of various forms have been used for centuries, although the design with a rubber nipple did not become popular until the 19th century. Babies were often given objects to suck on or bite as a form of distraction and to encourage the growth of teeth. Sometimes a pacifier would be made out of something simple, like grains wrapped in muslin, especially if the baby was from a low income family. Wealthy parents provided their infants with pacifying soothers to gum made from materials like silver and ivory.

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The soft rubber nipple of a pacifier is much more gentle on the mouth of an infant than hard infant chew toys. The baby is unlikely to cut or damage its gums while using a pacifier, and infants who are starting to product teeth can bite down on it without causing any harm. Because a pacifier goes into a baby's mouth, parents should be conscientious about making sure that it is clean, sterilizing pacifiers that have been dropped on the floor in the dishwasher.

In the United States, many people refer to a pacifier as a Binky, thanks to the popular Binki brand of the 1930s. Speakers of British English call a pacifier a dummy, while Canadian and Irish individuals refer to pacifiers by the old fashioned name of soother. Whatever parents call it, a pacifier can be a very useful calming tool for small babies, although use of a pacifier into childhood may not be healthy. Pediatricians have linked delayed speech development and dental problems with pacifiers, suggesting that excessive use may not be a good idea.

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Discuss this Article

sneakers41
Post 4

@Suntan12 - I heard that thumb sucking can lead to speech issues because it interferes with the development of the roof of the mouth.

I wanted to add that I think that Playtex pacifiers are actually the best out there. I always kept a couple extra ones in my diaper bag in case the other ones fell. Kids have a habit of holding on to the pacifier and then letting it drop on the ground in the most inconvenient times so I have learned to pack a couple extra just in case.

suntan12
Post 3

I just wanted to say that I wish I had introduced my daughter to a silicone pacifier when she was little because instead she used her thumb and it was much harder to get her to stop sucking her thumb.

In fact she sucked her thumb until she was almost five years old. She later needed speech therapy for some minor articulation issues so I don’t know if these issues are related. My son used a Gerber pacifier until he was two and did not have any type of speech impediment when he got older.

If I had to do it all over again I would have had my daughter use a pacifier because speech therapy was really expensive and it was so hard to get her to stop sucking her thumb.

Kat919
Post 2

@SailorJerry - First, congratulations and good luck with your new baby! Everyone has different experiences with pacifiers. I use a Nuk pacifier that I started at about two weeks and I haven't had any problems. I have a nice, fat, healthy breastfed baby.

It's definitely best to wait a couple of weeks if you can manage it so that baby is breastfeeding nicely before you introduce it. (But I know people who started in the hospital and it was no problem for them.) Some babies, especially breastfeed babies, won't take a pacifier at all, while others love them.

Besides nipple confusion, a controversy with them is that some people think they can cause parents to not learn their baby's cues, to just stick the paci in their mouths and be done with it. So if you do use it, make sure to try other ways to soothe your baby first.

Another problem some people have is that their baby will be so soothed by the paci, s/he won't eat. I would not use a pacifier with a baby who wasn't meeting weight gain goals--for instance, a baby that hadn't regained birth weight by two weeks.

SailorJerry
Post 1

My wife and I are expecting our first child soon and I'm so confused about the pacifier issue. She plans to breastfeed the baby and we know that can be hard--some women have a lot of trouble with it, so we don't want to do anything to jeopardize breastfeeding.

She heard at a La Leche League meeting that giving the baby a pacifier could cause nipple confusion and make breastfeeding more difficult. So we weren't planning to use one, but then were given one as part of a game at the baby shower. The person who picked it out said that it was a lifesaver for her and didn't cause any breastfeeding problems.

In fact, she said without it, she might have quit breastfeeding! The baby would fuss and fuss and she got so tired of sticking her nipple in its mouth over and over when it wasn't really even hungry (she could tell because he wasn't swallowing), that being able to offer it something else made all the difference in the world.

So what should we believe?

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