A pacifier--a latex or silicone nipple mounted on a wide plastic shield--can be a sanity saver, especially when your baby is fussy. "The sucking action will calm babies and can even help some of their jaw muscles develop properly," Julie Barna, a doctor of dental medicine and spokeswoman for the Academy of General Dentistry, said. Pacifiers also may reduce the threat of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies up to 1 year old use pacifiers at bedtime and naptime because studies suggest that pacifiers cut that risk.
If you're worried that pacifiers can interfere with breast-feeding or damage teeth, consider this: AAP guidelines say there's little evidence that pacifiers harm babies' teeth before they are 1 year old or cause infants to lose interest in breast-feeding. But the AAP recommends waiting until your breast-fed baby is 1 month old before introducing a pacifier, to ensure that breast-feeding is firmly established.
You can give your baby a pacifier at bedtime or naptime during his first year or so, when the risk of SIDS is greatest. Using pacifiers at other times of the day probably won't harm your child, provided he stops by the time he's 2, when the practice may cause protruding front teeth, an improper bite, and prevent the jaw from forming properly.
For some parents, a pacifier may be a godsend. For others, it's a waste of money because some babies, especially those who are breast-feeding, don't like pacifiers and will repeatedly spit them out, no matter which brand or type you try. Will your baby crave a pacifier or be satisfied with the breast or bottle? You'll know soon enough. But don't force your baby to use a pacifier if she doesn't want to.