The sucking reflex is natural to babies as they need it to eat and drink. It can also soothe and comfort your infant, notes HealthyChildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Pacifiers can fulfill the need to suck between feedings, calming your baby when he is tired or upset. However, regularly changing and replacing your baby’s pacifier is vital for his safety and health.
Pacifiers come in various sizes for different ages. The age range is printed somewhere on the pacifier packaging. Although each manufacturer is different, you'll likely find sizes such as newborn, 0 to 6 months, 6 to 12 months and 12 months and up. You should toss pacifiers that your baby outgrows and replace them with a larger size. Pacifiers that are too small for your baby, like the newborn size for an 8-month-old, can pose a choking risk.
Even though pacifiers are built of sturdy materials, they do break down and fall apart over time. You should thoroughly inspect your baby’s pacifier periodically to check for discoloration, cracks, swelling or tears, advises the HealthyChildren.org and ConsumerReports.com websites. If you find any evidence of such wear, toss that pacifier and replace it with a new one.
Pacifiers might look sturdy, but they don’t have an endless shelf life. The silicone and plastic from which they are made can weaken or get damaged over time. Some pacifier manufacturers print expiration dates on the pacifiers or the packaging. Before purchasing a pacifier, look for a date. Don’t use a pacifier that passes its expiration date. Before you use a new pacifier, make sure it is dishwasher safe -- and then boil it for 5 minutes or run it through the dishwasher to remove any chemical residue, notes the HealthyChildren.org website. Be sure to squeeze the water out of the nipple so it doesn't burn your baby's mouth. Clean it this way frequently until your baby is 6-months-old to avoid exposing your infant to germs. After that, wash your baby's pacifiers often with warm soapy water by hand. Keep in mind that boiling water can shorten the life of a pacifier so if you are using this method to clean it, check often for signs of wear.
Calling It Quits
Keep in mind that prolonged pacifier use can lead to dental problems, such as the front teeth protruding forward, teeth not coming in properly or jaw or palate growth issues, according to MayoClinic.com. To reduce the risk of these problems occurring, try weaning your little one off the pacifier by the time she is age 2. You can do this cold turkey or gradually so she has time to adjust. For the latter, cut down on times that she gets to use the pacifier. For example, start by limiting pacifier use to just naptime and bedtime.