Anything that goes into a baby's mouth is controversial these days, and while many find it easy to take sides in the breast vs. bottle debate, it's harder to weigh out all the pros and cons in deciding whether to give the baby a pacifier.
On the one hand, who doesn't love an inexpensive and easy trick to help calm down a crying baby? When all else fails, a pacifier can be almost magical in its ability to do the trick. When colic takes hold, it could literally save lives.
But then there are a lot of risks to putting a little piece of plastic in a baby's mouth. Some of the dangers are well known, like the possibility that the baby could have issues with his teeth and that weaning a baby from a pacifier is a nightmare. But the truth is that there are even more hidden dangers than many moms and dads can even imagine. There have been reports of babies getting sick, cut or even burned because of their pacifier, and recalls have proven that there is a risk of choking.
Many of these cases are few and far between, and for many the benefits outweigh the risks. But parents need to be away of the dangers so that they can keep their children protected while letting the little one enjoy sucking on his binkie.
Here are 10 ways pacifiers are dangerous and five reasons to consider using them.
15 Burn Marks
We'll start off with a shocker that most parents have no idea can happen when they give the baby a pacifier. This summer, a little girl in Ohio was burned badly by her pacifier clip. The poor 2-year-old was taking a nap this July when the heat from her body caused the clip for the pacifier to stick to her body.
The good news is that the paci had fallen out of her mouth. The bad news is that it had landed on her stomach, and when her mom pulled it off, it left behind a terrible, circular burn mark. The little girl was rushed to a hospital and had to be taken to a burn center because it was so severe. The poor sweetheart had to deal with a lot of pain and treatment, and she may be left with a scar for the rest of her life, all because of an unknown danger of using a pacifier.
14 Germ Magnets
Babies drop their pacifiers all the time, and no matter what you want to believe, there is no three-second rule when it comes to keeping bacteria away from the baby. What's worse is that there is another baby in the room, they have no problem trading pacis or stealing them and popping them in their own mouths. Even the most OCD moms can have a hard time keeping the pacifier clean since the little suckers end up so often in places they aren't supposed to be.
Recently, researchers did a study on 10 used pacifiers, and they found 40 different strains of bacteria on them. The bugs caused everything from skin infections to respiratory disease, as well as four different strains of Staph infections. That means that there is a real danger of babies getting sick from their pacis. Even rinsing them off every time they get on the floor may not enough to keep the germs away.
13 Ear Issues
Ear aches are one of the most common ailments for babies. Many doctors say that the fact that babies get infections several times a year is linked to the fact that they have tiny Eustachian tubes that don't let the ears drain properly — and of course the fact that babies are just gaining their immune systems and get sick more often overall than others.
But research has proven that babies who use binkies are at an increased risk of ear infections. The study even concluded that limiting the pacifier to bed and nap times can reduce the rate of ear infections by 29 percent. That's a big deal when parents are considering having to put their little one under general anesthesia to have tubes put in. Ear infections lead to 25 million doctor visits a year for babies, according to WebMD, so cutting that amount by one-third could be a drastic reduction — and considering the danger of losing hearing, it could be a big risk to give a baby a pacifier.
12 Toxic Danger
In recent years the concerns over BPA have entirely changed the baby supply market. Bisphenol A, which is known as BPA, is commonly used to harden plastics, but ever since research studies started to link the ingredient to things like heart disease and cancer, parents have demanded that manufacturers start making BPA-free sippy cups and bottles. But until last year, it was still found in many pacifiers.
According to a research study, many pacis also contain BPS and BPF, which have impacts on the endocrine system, as well as parabens and antimicrobials. The chemicals have been found to disrupt hormones in ways that can cause infertility later in life or even issues that are more of an issue in childhood like lowering the IQ and contributing to autism and other neurological diagnoses. The risks may be low, but considering many parents work hard to give their babies the best start with organic foods, it's definitely a danger that many parents would want to avoid.
11 Choking Risk
One of the first skills that babies master is the ability to create a pattern to suck, swallow and breathe safely. It's integral to eating, either by breastfeeding or with a bottle, although some premature babies can struggle with the sequence and may need to be fed through a tube until they get everything right. The same sequence ensures that a baby can suck on a pacifier without worry that he won't be able to breathe. But unfortunately, there have been cases recently where babies have choked on their binkies.
In an ABC report, one North Carolina mom warned other mothers about the risks after the second time she caught her baby choking just in time to save him. The two month old had fallen asleep with his pacifier in his mouth, but the nipple came off and got lodged in his throat. It happened twice — the first time when he was just two months old and the second time a few months later. There have been recalls on some pacifiers due to the issue of the nipple coming off or pieces coming off, and it's a real risk that it block a baby's tiny little throat.
10 Little Lacerations
Faulty products can happen in every market, but when that product is supposed to be a help to a sweet defenseless baby, it can be very dangerous. One of the worst hazards that has happened with bad pacifiers is that they have left little lacerations — or sometimes even great big ones — on the mouths of infants.
In 2015, Kids in Danger issued a report using information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission that found a number of dangers from faulty pacis. In the report, researchers found a number of pacifiers had ripped or broken and then cut the inside of the baby's mouth or the area immediately outside of it. The report encourages parents to check recall lists and to often inspect their baby's binky to look for any sign that the nipple has ripped. Some may have even needed stitches or been left with scars, and that's a danger no parent wants to risk for their baby.
9 Moldy Situation
We talked about germs a few minutes ago, but sometimes things can get even more gunky. Some pacifiers, especially those where moisture can get in crevices that are hard to clean, can be petri dishes for mold.
Mold was one of the most serious issues found in pacifiers in a test from an Oklahoma news report. Sometimes the spores can be too small to see but big enough to do damage to a tiny baby. Mold can cause a baby to have respiratory distress and asthma-like symptoms, and it can be hard to detect because they can mimic other diseases that have different treatments. According to the report, discussed on the Stop Mold Cold website, a pacifier can get so contaminated in two weeks that it can't be cleaned even with bleach or boiling the germs away. It's gross and dangerous enough that a mom might want to throw away the pacifier at the first sign of it.
8 Nip Confusion
When babies are just hours old, brand new moms haven't thought about how they will keep a pacifier clean when the baby is crawling or whether or not it will give their little one an earache. Instead, for many, the biggest danger that they worry about with pacifiers is whether or not the baby will experience nipple confusion. The term has been pushed by groups like the La Leche League, which advocates exclusively breastfeeding and had previous concerns that the baby would not nurse as well if a pacifier was introduced.
Research studies haven't really held up nipple confusion as a real danger for newborns, although some advocates still stress a desire to keep pacifiers out of the mouths of babes. There are some types of pacifiers that some groups advocate over others as more breastfeeding friendly, but many babies end up sucking on a pacifier in the hospital before they are even introduced to the breast, and they come out OK in the end.
7 Tooth Trouble
This is the issue that most moms have heard about when it comes to pacifiers. There is concern that using a pacifier could mess up a baby's teeth, and while it isn't a worry before the baby has any teeth, the danger can be real for toddlers.
If a child uses a pacifier long-term it could tilt or slant the baby teeth with they are coming in. According to Livestrong, it could have longer term impacts, as well, including changing the shape of the mouth as a whole and misaligning the jaw. If the child still uses a paci at 5, that could delay when the baby teeth come out and the adult teeth come in. There are some pacifiers that are marketed as being more orthodontically friendly, but the best bet is to get rid of the pacifier by the time the baby is 2 or so. And that leads us to our next section.
6 Weaning Worry
One of the biggest dangers of a baby getting a pacifier is that eventually a mom will have to take it away. The teeth issue alone, not to mention the fact a kid with a pacifier will face a lot of bullies by the time he gets to school, means that a child will have to give up the binkie at some point, but no mom wants to hear the wails of her child when they only want to be soothed.
It's true that some babies have a very hard time giving up their pacifier, but research shows that kids eventually grow out of such a strong need to suck. Parents should try to slowly break a child from a binkie habit, limiting the use during the day at first before cutting it out at sleep times. Many parents use reward systems and some teach other ways to self-soothe. There are other methods that some people try, including cutting a hole in the pacifier so it doesn't suck as well, although that has the potential to cause the choking hazard, so it is best avoided.
5 BUT! Can Calm A Colicky Baby
There is nothing harder for a mother than to hear her baby cry and not be able to help them calm down. But that is a reality for so many families if the baby has colic and spends hours each evening inconsolable. The baby isn't hungry or wet, and he is getting the attention he wants, but he just isn't happy. Sometimes, giving the baby something to suck on is the only solution, and that means that a pacifier may become the baby's — and the mom's new best friend.
Colic is an issue that impacts up to one in four newborns, and while doctors aren't exactly clear on the cause, it can mean that the baby spends three or more hours crying without a reason that anyone can pinpoint. It usually starts when the baby is six to eight weeks old, and for about half of the cases, the baby will get better around six months. Very few suffer all the way until the first birthday. But that is a critical period in a baby's life, and the worst times are usually in the evenings when mom is trying to get dinner on the table. It's OK to walk away when the parent gets frustrated — in fact, that can sometimes save the mom and dad and the baby from worse heartache. But leaving the baby with a binkie might help the parent feel like at least they are doing something to comfort their little one.
4 But! Gives Mom A Break
Newborns have a natural reflex to suck. That is a good thing because the reflex helps ensure that the baby learns how to eat properly, whether the mom is choosing to breastfeed or bottle-feed. But babies want to suck for reasons other than just to get some milk, and that can mean that some moms can spend hours nursing their babies even when there is no nutrition at all involved.
If a baby is teething or feeling sick or just having a bad day, he may cry for his mother's comfort all day long. With non-nutritive sucking, a mom's breasts can get even more sore and they can bleed. That can make breastfeeding even more difficult and could cause moms to consider giving up. It's definitely worth considering a pacifier to give a poor mom's breasts a break. Of course, the mom should nurse when the baby is hungry, but not every suck has to be her boobs.
3 But! Helps Preemie Health
One of the most amazing — and almost unexplainable — benefits of using a pacifier has been documented in the most vulnerable babies. Premature infants can struggle with everything from keeping up their temperature to breathing comfortably. But with a pacifier, many preemies do better with one of the biggest hurdles or the neonatal intensive care unit: gaining weight.
According to a 1992 research study, preemies who use pacifiers do a better job at gaining and keeping on weight. It might have something to do with strengthening the baby's sucking reflex to allow him to be more efficient at feedings. Since many times preemies have to achieve a certain weight before they can be released from the hospital, a binkie can mean a lot to helping a baby become healthy and heading home. That's definitely a good reason to give a pacifier a try.
2 But! Soothes Them To Sleep
Getting a baby to sleep can be really hard. It's even worse when they are over-tired or over-stimulated — to the point where sometimes the baby can cry for hours before finally drifting off to sleep. The sucking reflex is a natural instinct that can help bring comfort to the baby, and sometimes taking advantage of the baby's natural desire can help him figure out how to relax enough to sleep. If a pacifier will do that, then so be it.
There are plenty of mothers who complain that the baby wakes up when his pacifier drops out of his mouth, but they will admit that the little thing is a miracle maker in terms of helping the baby get to sleep. Depending on how good a sleeper the baby is, some parents would do anything to find something that would help at bedtime, and in that case, they should definitely give a binkie a chance.
1 But! Keeps Them Safe From SIDS
Every mom's worst nightmare is to lose her newborn to the tragic and unexplainable diagnosis of SIDS. While the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome has decreased in the past couple of decades, it remains one of the worst fears of mothers, especially since there is little information about how to protect their little one from death.
While scientists are still studying the potential causes of it, the good news is that research has revealed a few ways that parents may be able to avoid it. The first is through putting the baby to sleep on his back instead of his stomach. A campaign to educate mothers about the preferred sleep position has resulted in a drastic decline in the rate of SIDS. The other research-proven factor is to give the baby a pacifier. Researchers haven't figured out the reason, but the statistics show that a pacifier can greatly reduce the possibility of tragedy. And that is the best reason of all to consider giving the baby a pacifier.
Sources: WebMD, What to Expect, Daily Mail, ABC, Kids In Danger, Livestrong