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Pacifiers (soothers): A user’s guide for parents

Babies are born wanting to suck. Some even suck their thumb or fingers in the womb. This is a natural behaviour that allows them to feed and grow. It’s also comforting and helps babies settle.

If your baby seems to want to suck in between feedings, a pacifier can help. But it should never be used instead of feeding, and it should never be used without the extra comfort and cuddling a parent can provide.

What are the advantages of using a pacifier?

  • You can control the use of a pacifier but it’s harder to control thumb sucking. When it’s time to stop using a pacifier, you can throw it away. You can’t throw away a thumb!
  • The latest medical research finds that using a pacifier may decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or crib death.

Can there be problems with using a pacifier?

  • Using a pacifier incorrectly can lead to problems with breastfeeding, teeth (cavities and overbite), and possibly ear infections.
  • Homemade pacifiers, sweetened pacifiers or pacifiers tied around a baby’s neck are not safe and could lead to injury or death. If you choose to use a pacifier for your baby, use it wisely and safely.

The Do’s and Don’ts of pacifiers

  • It’s best not to start using a pacifier until breastfeeding is going well. Talk to your doctor or lactation specialist if you feel your baby needs to use one at this early stage. One exception is for premature or sick babies in the hospital who can benefit from using one for comfort.
  • Always see if your baby is hungry, tired or bored before giving him a pacifier. Try solving these things first.
  • Sterilize the pacifier by putting it in boiling water for 5 minutes before the first use. Make sure it’s completely cooled down before giving it to your baby. Keep it clean by washing it with hot, soapy water after each use. Don’t “clean” the pacifier by sucking on it yourself because it can spread germs from you to your child.
  • Always check for cracks or tears before giving a pacifier to your baby. Don’t give your baby a pacifier right after giving  medicine (like a pain reliever, antibiotics or vitamins), because some of these medicines can cause the material in the pacifier to break down. If there are cracks or tears, throw it out. Replace the pacifier every two months..
  • Never dip the pacifier in sugar or honey. This will hurt your baby’s teeth  Honey can lead to botulism, which is a type of food poisoning.
  • Never tie a pacifier around your baby’s neck. This can cause strangulation and death. Instead, you can use clips with short ribbons attached to them. They are available where you buy pacifiers and are safe to use.
  • Never make your own pacifier out of bottle nipples, caps or other materials. These can cause choking and death.
  • Don’t let your older child crawl or walk around with a pacifier. 
  • Use the pacifier only when your child needs comfort. Using it all day long can affect your child’s ability to learn to talk and can cause problems with teeth.
  • Never let your baby or child chew on a pacifier. It could break down and cause choking and death.

Here are some tips to help your child stop using a pacifier:

  • Limit the time you allow your child to use a pacifier. Use it only for sleep time and comfort until about 12 months old and then plan to give it up.
  • Never use punishment or humiliation to force your child to give up using a pacifier.
  • Include your child by asking him to throw it away or leave it under the pillow for the “soother fairy.” This is especially helpful if your child is older. 
  • Start a reward chart to mark your child’s progress.
  • Praise your child when she gives up the pacifier. Tell her you are proud that she is growing up and give her lots of hugs and cuddles. 
  • Allow your child to express his feelings. If he’s upset or angry, give him special cuddles to help him cope.
  • If your child asks for the pacifier again (and she probably will), don’t give in. Remind her that the pacifier is gone and that she is grown up now.

Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Community Paediatrics Committee

Last Updated: April 2012