Sleepless nights plague countless families with new infants. Figuring out what works to soothe your baby can be daunting, with countless different products and varying kinds of advice. It’s easy for new parents to feel overwhelmed by the choices and exhausted by lack of sleep.
For many parents, pacifiers are magic tools that instantly calm their fussy babies. You might not even think twice about how it works. As long as you and your baby get some much-needed zzz’s, you’ll be happy with your choice to introduce the binkie.
Even if a binkie seems magical, though, there’s science behind how it works. And, understanding why we do what we do as parents is important for making informed parental decisions. Let’s break down why pacifiers work! Then, we’ll answer some commonly asked questions.
How Do Pacifiers Work?
Infants love these tiny silicone saviors, and for good reason! Our little ones are always seeking to suck, and sucking is known to soothe infants.
Sucking is essential for an infant’s survival–it’s how they get their nutrients! So, it’s understandable that they’re always looking for something to satisfy that urge.
1. Sucking: A Natural Urge
Babies even suck on their fingers in utero! The womb walls help limit their movement and bounce their hands back to their faces. Out in the real world, with limited muscle coordination, it’s difficult for infants to satisfy their sucking needs on their own. And, we don’t want them to develop a thumb-sucking habit.
So, it’s no surprise that infants feel instantly happier when we pop a bottle, pacifier, or breast right in place. Breasts or bottles feed the baby while they suck (called “nutritive sucking”).
A pacifier doesn’t provide food (called “non-nutritive sucking”) but still has the same calming effect. That is if your baby isn’t already hungry and frustrated when sucking doesn’t produce any milk!
2. The Calming Effects of Sucking
Babies build a positive association with the sucking reflex, which pacifiers satisfy. Sucking lowers their heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels. A binky can even distract a baby from pain, like from a shot, or overstimulation in social settings.
The repetitive action of sucking also releases endorphins, a hormone that makes us feel happy. This is probably because, when breastfeeding, the mother produces pheromones that trigger the release of these hormones in their infant. Babies then associate sucking with calmness and happiness.
3. Binkies as a Sleep Aid
Happy and calm babies sleep well! Many parents use a pacifier as a tool to soothe their little ones to sleep during either naptime or bedtime. Falling asleep with a binky is 100% safe for your little one.
Sleeping well and on a schedule is essential for your little one’s development. Pacifiers also potentially help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Want to know more about binkies and sleep? Check out our breakdown of why pacifiers are a great sleep aid!
Common Questions About Binkies
Now, let's tackle some of the big questions new parents often have about pacifiers!
1. When is the right time to introduce a pacifier?
Pediatricians recommend waiting to introduce a pacifier until a good breastfeeding routine has been established. There’s conflicting evidence on whether or not a binky interrupts breastfeeding, but there’s no harm in being safe! If you’re bottle feeding, you can use a pacifier from birth.
If your little one is struggling to accept a binky, check out our tips and hacks for pacifiers!
2. Are there any safety concerns?
Pacifier use is safe as long as you choose a safe model. Always choose a single-piece pacifier to eliminate the risk of choking on multiple pieces. Avoid attaching strings or cords to pacifiers.
Also, always follow manufacturer guidelines on the lifespan of your pacifier and frequently check for wear and tear. Make sure you follow guidelines for proper cleaning, and sterilize frequently when using during early infancy.
Other safety concerns that affect development, like possible dental issues, can be avoided by following pediatric guidelines on when to start weaning.
3. When should I wean my baby off the binkie?
The ideal time to wean your baby off the pacifier varies from child to child. Many parents start weaning early, around six months old, to avoid their little one developing a dependency on the pacifier. Some parents wait until about a year old, before an emotional attachment forms.
With other children, letting them use the pacifier longer is a better option. Always start weaning by age two, aiming to stop use completely by three, to avoid dental issues.
Here’s a more in-depth look at when you should consider weaning and how to do it.
4. How do I clean a pacifier?
Always follow manufacturer care instructions. During infancy, you should sterilize pacifiers frequently. Typically, you do this by boiling the binky or running it through the dishwasher.
When your little one is older, about six months and up, cleaning with soap and water or a pacifier wipe is recommended.
5. How many pacifiers do I need?
Babies have a knack for misplacing pacifiers, so having a few spares on hand can be a lifesaver. You might want to have a pacifier in the diaper bag, one in the crib, and another in the living room.
Having extras in case you notice wear and tear or forget to pick up a new pacifier can also help avoid last-minute store runs and late-night meltdowns!
The Science Behind the Binky
Pacifiers can be your best friend when you're a new parent. They soothe your infant by satisfying their urge to suck. The release of endorphins from sucking helps them soothe even in stressful or painful situations. And, easier sleep is good for both you and your baby!
So, embrace the pacifier, ask for advice from fellow parents, and remember that parenting is all about finding what works for you and your baby. The binky is just one chapter in the incredible story of your parenting journey. Enjoy every moment of it, pacifiers and all!