A paper published in the leading paediatrics journal American Family Physician, concluded that pacifiers may be especially beneficial to babies in the first six months of life and they are more beneficial than harmful. The American Academy of Paediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians are now advising physicians to recommend parents consider offering pacifiers to infants one month and older at the onset of sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death synndrome.
It is commonly accepted that pacifiers can reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDs) by over 50%. This means that a baby who doesn’t use a pacifier is over twice as likely to die from SIDs over a baby that does. There are approximately 2,300 cases of SIDs each year in the United States and while the overall likelihood of a baby dying from SIDs is quite small (0.05%) it remains the leading cause of death of babies aged between 1 month and 1 year. A pacifier gives a baby something to suck on while they fall asleep/nap which has been shown to prevent SIDs.
Another benefit of a pacifier is that it allows babies to self-settle and can assist them fall to sleep. Most babies are happiest when they are sucking on something since this is their instinct. For babies that have trouble settling or getting to sleep, giving them a pacifier can be the difference between a baby settling quickly or becoming tearful and anxious.
Pacifiers can have a calming effect generally. It is recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) as a form of pain relief for minor operations since it acts to distract and calm the baby. This type of distraction/calming effect is also beneficial when a baby is taken out and about, especially where a tearful or fussy baby could have an impact on others and parents are unable to provide as much attention to the baby to calm them – restaurants and flights are prime examples.
An often cited issue of pacifier use is that baby’s may not breastfeed normally, but it is generally accepted that where pacifier use is restricted beyond the first months of a baby’s life, it should have no adverse effect on a baby’s breastfeeding habits. In a Cochrane review it found that pacifier use sped the transition from breast to bottle feeding and so pacifiers can be considered to be beneficial in this regard.
Other issues identified by pacifier include increased incidence of Otitis Media (ear infection) and issues with teeth development. However the paper said these issues only had a heightened risk where a pacifier use occurred when babies were older.