Before my child was born, I was against the idea of using a pacifier. I thought we would not need it and should not resort to it. This belief was NOT based on any research I had done, only hearsay and my own misinformed imagination.
Once I actually had a child in my life, my wife and I decided to research the topic rather than guess at the advantages and disadvantages. After all, it quickly became clear that there were times when our baby wanted something other than feeding, holding, changing and playing to fulfill his needs. The research we found changed our outlook on using a soother like a pacifier. Here is what I discovered.
What I thought:
-Pacifiers were for lazy parents.
-Pacifiers were an off button for the baby.
What I learned:
-Pacifiers can be uniquely soothing for a young child as most babies have a strong sucking reflex (Sometimes this begins even in the womb with some babies sucking their thumbs or fingers before they are born -Mayo Clinic).
-It is specifically recommended not to use one if you are breastfeeding, or at least to wait until breastfeeding is established (typically 6 weeks).
-New research suggests babies who use pacifiers have a lower risk of SIDS.
-it is much easier to wean a child from a pacifier than sucking his/her thumb.
There are many pacifiers on the market now that promote good oral development and focus on keeping your baby's teeth coming in nice and straight. A quick search on Amazon will give you some great choices. Below are just two examples with statements from the companies themselves about how they work on supporting good oral health for your baby.
-The Mam Perfect Pacifier has been proven to positively affect oral health in infants, by allowing teeth to develop naturally. This pacifier is BPA-free and uses 'Dento-flex' technology that causes the frame of the pacifier to bend or flex when your baby uses it.
"Switching back and forth from breast to artificial nipple is a lot to ask of a baby in the early days of learning to breastfeed. A baby who tries to suck at the breast the way she sucks on a bottle nipple or a pacifier will quickly become frustrated and may cry, fuss, or refuse to nurse. She won't get much milk, and she may have a difficult time learning to breastfeed effectively.”
The most surprising information I learned was from a nurse teaching a baby CPR class in our birth hospital here in New York. He said that research published in 2005 through the American Academy of Pediatrics had suggested that letting a baby sleep with a pacifier in his/her mouth was fine as their data suggested that this helped guard against SIDS. (You can find the article here and all the data for a deep dive into their research.)
The exact method by which SIDS risk is reduced is not exactly understood, but the study states that pacifier use "may decrease the likelihood of rolling into the prone position, increase arousal, maintain airway patency, decrease gastroesophageal reflux and resultant sleep apnea, or increase respiratory drive with carbon dioxide retention."
Over all pacifiers carry little to no health risks other than habit forming, but middle ear infections are also something to watch for during pacifier use. However, they generally are minimally present in children up to six months - the time when your child is most likely to use the pacifier most frequently. So you have a nice window for low-risk use.