There are so many items parents can use to help with their little ones’ sleep. Blackout shades, sound machine, sleep sack, baby monitor, etc. But what about pacifiers? I speak to many parents who give their babies a pacifier when they put them down to sleep but will tell me that they know they shouldn’t. Are they right? Or are pacifiers good for sleep?
Here is the answer: Pacifiers can either positively or negatively impact sleep.
Great answer, right?
Well, hold on. Let me explain both the good and the bad.
When is a pacifier good for sleep?
Another name for pacifiers is soothers because they are SO soothing for many babies. Some babies never take them. (My younger son was like that.) But for those little ones who love their soothers, it’s a tool that parents can use to comfort their babies.
When it comes to sleep, anything that calms a baby and helps them drift off to sleep is a positive. If your child is struggling to settle down to sleep but giving them a pacifier will help them fall asleep for their nap or at bedtime, why wouldn’t you give it to them?
Another benefit to giving a baby a pacifier when they’re going to sleep is that it lessens their risk of suffering from SIDS. Why pacifiers help protect against SIDS isn’t fully understood, but studies1 show that the correlation is there.
Now, on the other hand…
When is a pacifier bad for sleep?
If your little one can’t fall asleep without their pacifier, they may begin to have more night wakings. They will partially wake up in the middle of the night (which is normal), realize they don’t have the pacifier, be unable to find it in the crib, and then fully wake up and call out for you to get it for them. Even if you don’t mind getting up multiple times a night to replace the pacifier, those extra night wakings can cause your baby or toddler to become overtired. And that can lead to more issues with their sleep.
It’s okay for your child to fall asleep with their soother, but you want them to be able to go back to sleep without it.
I know some people may suggest using a clip to attach the soother to your child’s sleeper but, for little ones less than 12 months of age, that increases their risk of SIDS.
Another tactic is to sprinkle your little one’s crib with a plethora of assorted soothers. If this works for you, great! But it doesn’t work for everyone.
Essentially, it comes down to this: If the pacifier helps your child with their sleep, then keep using it. If it’s hurting their sleep, you should consider removing it overnight and during naps.
So, how should you use the pacifier when it comes to sleep?
Every time you interact with your child at the beginning of their sleep, you can offer them their pacifier. That could be a) at bedtime, b) at the beginning of their nap, or c) after nursing or bottle-feeding them during the night. Any other time they wake up but need to go back to sleep, allow them to do so without the pacifier. Kids are clever and adaptable. Given the opportunity, they will become used to going back to sleep without their soother.
1Moon, R.Y., Tanabe, K.O., Yang, D.C. et al. Use and Sids: Evidence for a Consistently Reduced Risk. Matern Child Health J 16, 609-614 (2012). <https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-011-0793-x>