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How Do Pacifiers Affect Breastfeeding?

Medically Reviewed by Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC
Boob versus binky. Can they peacefully co-exist?

Do you wonder if you should give your baby a pacifier when you’re breastfeeding? Have you heard horror stories about babies who had nipple confusion or started refusing the breast after pacifiers were introduced?

With careful planning, your baby can learn to appreciate the joys of both the breast and the pacifier. You don’t have to use just one or the other — you can have the best of both worlds.

Your baby will be able to use a pacifier to self-soothe occasionally so you’ll have less crying to contend with. But you won’t risk your baby shying away from breastfeeding because they prefer sucking on an artificial nipple.

Should Breastfed Babies Avoid the Pacifier?

You might wonder why any parent would give their child a pacifier if it means there’s a risk of interfering with breastfeeding. There are a number of drawbacks to pacifier use.

  • Cut down on the chance of SIDS: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is one of the biggest fears many parents have. Although experts aren’t sure why it works, babies who suck on pacifiers while they are sleeping have less risk of dying from SIDS (1).
  • Gives them a way to self-soothe: Babies can struggle to handle their emotions, but it’s a skill they’ll eventually have to learn to master. Pacifiers can help them calm down, which means it will help you calm down as well.
  • Lets them indulge in their love of sucking: As all parents know, babies love to suck. It doesn’t matter on what — it can be their own fingers or a pacifier.
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Disadvantages of Pacifiers for Breastfed Babies

Not everything about pacifiers is sunshine and rainbows. There are some downsides to them as well that you might want to consider before you decide if your baby will use one.

  • Earlier weaning: Some studies show babies who use pacifiers will start to wean from the breast sooner than babies who don’t use pacifiers. The pacifiers satisfy the baby’s urge to suck so they don’t feel the need to go to the breast for that.
  • Bigger risk of thrush: Pacifier users are more likely to get thrush, an oral yeast overgrowth. That thrush can transfer to your nipples during breastfeeding.
  • May lead to more ear infections: Ear infections are a common problem in babies and pacifiers may cause your baby to end up with more of them.
  • If they’re in poor condition, it can be a choking hazard: You should always quickly inspect a pacifier every time before you hand it to your baby. If it shows any signs of cracking or spots that look like they’re about to rip out, throw it away so your baby can’t choke on any broken pieces.
  • Problems with your baby’s teeth: Don’t let your baby use a pacifier too long because it can cause future dental problems. Around the age of 2, you should break your baby of the pacifier habit (2).
  • Failure to gain weight: If your baby is having difficulties gaining weight, you should cut back on how often you let them use a pacifier. You want to save that precious sucking time for your breast when your baby will get milk and hopefully start gaining some extra ounces and pounds.

When to Introduce a Pacifier to Breastfed Baby

Timing is everything when it comes to starting breastfed babies on pacifiers. You don’t want to do it too soon.

If you introduce them before your baby has had time to learn to breastfeed, you’ll be setting both of you up for failure.

1 Month+

You should not give your baby a pacifier until they are about one month old — that will give your breast milk supply a chance to fully establish and your baby time to learn a proper latch without the confusion of a pacifier nipple added in (3).

What Kind of Pacifier Works Best for a Breastfed Baby?

Not all pacifiers are created equal when you’re looking for one for your breastfed baby.

To keep your baby interested in the breast, steer clear of the ones with bulbs on the end.

Those may turn them into lazy suckers. That won’t work well for a breastfed baby who has to work hard to get any milk from your breast.

If they become lazy suckers, breastfeeding will become troublesome and unproductive for both you and your baby.

Pro Tip

Instead, look for pacifiers with rounded nipples. They are shaped more like the real thing and are likelier to feel comfortable to them. They are also more flexible, just like your nipples are.

What Time of Day Should I Let My Baby Use a Pacifier?

Pacifiers shouldn’t be used before a breastfeeding session. Do your breastfeeding first and then if your baby still wants to suck, you can give them a pacifier.

If you’re trying to limit the use of pacifiers, only offer it to your baby at night. That will give them any SIDS protection the pacifier does provide.

And once you see that pacifier fall out of your baby’s mouth, you should put it away.

There’s no need to try to put it back in your sleeping baby’s mouth. That can encourage dependence on the pacifier.

You Can Find a Way to Make it Work

While giving your breastfeeding baby a pacifier can present challenges, with a little awareness and know-how you can successfully pull it off.

Choose carefully when you first introduce the pacifier, as well as what times of the day you offer it to your baby.

How do you feel about pacifiers for your breastfed baby? Let us know.

Headshot of Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Medically Reviewed by

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC

Michelle Roth, BA, IBCLC is a writer, editor, and board-certified lactation consultant for two busy pediatric practices. She is a former La Leche League Leader, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Infant Massage Instructor.