When it comes to pacifiers, experts agree on very little except that infants have a need to suck. Itís soothing and calming and it starts before theyíre even born. Approximately 75 to 80 percent of parents give their babies a pacifier during at least the first few weeks of life.
Benefits: "If a baby doesnít have a pacifier, he may find his thumb and fingers to suck on instead," says pediatric dentist Mary Hayes, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. Hayes actually prefers a pacifier. "At least you can get rid of it," she says, "and when it goes, so does the habit."
Research suggests other benefits: lowering the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome, relieving pain and alleviating reflux.
Reasons to think twice about a pacifier? You have to pick it up and put it back in your infantís mouth whenever it falls out. Day and night.
Dr. Teri Turner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, isnít a fan of pacifiers because they can also interfere with developing communications skills and spread germs if not properly cleaned. A moist pacifier is a great breeding ground for fungus causing yeast/thrush infections of the mouth.
Researchers from the University of Oulu, Finland, recently examined the relationship between pacifiers and acute otitis media (ear infections). The occurrence of these ear infections was 33 percent higher in children who continuously used a pacifier than those who didnít or only used it when falling asleep.
Dr. Turner recommends a common sense approach. If your child has recurrent ear infections, consider discontinuing pacifier use to see if that helps. If your child doesnít have recurrent ear infections despite pacifier use, this study may not be the reason to toss them out.
Ready to pull the plug? Learn when and how to stop.
See also: 10 Tips for Pacifier Safety
Learn about nature's pacifier: The Ins and Outs of Thumbsucking
Joan Sosin is a freelance writer who specializes in health and legal issues.
From United Parenting Publications, 2001.