Should Your Child Use a Pacifier?

Call it a pacifier, soother, dummy or tzumi – we’re all talking about the same thing. Some kind of silicone or rubber protrusion that helps you soothe or calm your baby, toddler or maybe even preschooler.

Some moms can’t imagine living without it, some moms can’t imagine living with it. The AAP recommends it, BFHI says not to use it. Your pediatrician probably also has an opinion one way or another.

But let’s get practical here, moms: how can use of a pacifier affect your baby’s sleep and nursing?

Affect on your child’s sleep

Falling asleep is not something that happens instantaneously; it’s a journey. We have to get ourselves from point A to point B, and we all have things we take along with us on our journey: our props.

I’ve had parents tell me that their child falls asleep independently – all they have to do is lay the child down in the crib with a pacifier and walk out. But here’s the thing folks: if the baby is using a pacifier to fall asleep, he’s not falling asleep independently – he’s dependent on the pacifier.

And here’s where it becomes a problem. Your child, like you, has partial awakenings throughout the night. Some are lighter, some are deeper. But if your child is dependent on the pacifier to fall asleep in the beginning of the night, that dependency is going to cause him to wake up in the middle of the night when he has a partial awakening to replace the pacifier (which will, inevitably, have fallen out).

Some children are able to replace their pacifiers once they’ve fallen out and go right back to sleep – which means that only they will be affected by the wakeup – and some children will wake and cry for their parents to find the pacifier. Or they’ll find the pacifier on their own but cry for their parents anyway.

The result? Tired mommy, tired daddy, tired baby.

I will say that I’ve had only one client who has insisted on keeping a pacifier and still moving forward and working with me. I acquiesced (a decision I have since regretted), but told her I cannot guarantee results if that’s what she would choose. This was also the only client whose child had unexplained nightly wakeups up until our last day together.

Affect on nursing

All the organizations that I’m familiar with that promote breastfeeding recommend against using a pacifier, at least for the first month while establishing breastfeeding. Now things can get iffy when you’re in a hospital that is not part of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, and the nurses and doctors pressure you into allowing your baby to have a pacifier… but the concern is this: babies have a very strong suck need. And a pacifier WILL fill that. But a pacifier won’t build your supply or feed your baby.

And that’s where things can become problematic. Crying is always a late cue – whether of hunger, tiredness or anything else – and oftentimes, parents will, in confusion, desperation or sleep deprivation, simply put a pacifier in the child’s mouth to calm him… when in fact he needed a feed.

Some babies do have a stronger sucking need than others, and may be able to get the feeds they need and still want to suck more. But I’d regard the pacifier with a healthy dose of suspicion, and track your baby’s feeds to ensure they’re getting the recommended 8-12 in a 24 hour period, and, if you can, it may be best to hold off for the first few weeks while you establish and become confident in your supply.


Now all that being said, I think pacifiers are a great tool in the right place and time. They’re great for soothing a sick baby and they’re great for use when traveling (especially for moms of multiples!). However, it’s best to use that pacifier with caution – be careful how you use it during those first few weeks while establishing breastfeeding, be careful when using it in any sleep situation after about 6 weeks of age, and it’s really best not to use it at all after one year of age.

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Comments (2)
  1. EK

    This is fascinating. I’d love to read or hear more about replacing the pacifier prop for something less disruptive and more helpful. What do your suggest?

    • Hi E,

      While all props can cause loads of problems for sleep (and, as you saw, even a pacifier can disrupt your child’s sleep!) having a “lovey” – whether a blanket or stuffed animal – as a security object is a great in-between. It’s not problematic prop-wise (it should be large enough that your child will be able to find it in a partial awakening without having to wake up all the way) and it is a constant that they can bring with them when going away from home when things change, etc. Depending on your child’s age, a lovey can be something they choose or something you choose. (You can check out this blog post on the topic: Your Kiddo’s Best Friend: The Lovey)

      Some children will never attach to a lovey, and that’s okay – I’ve worked with plenty of kids who don’t have a lovey and are able to fall asleep independently anyway!

      Chaya Shifra