My mother-in-law is very upset that my four-month-old uses a pacifier. She worries that we're making a sissy out of him and she says that it will give him crooked teeth. Should we be concerned?


Your mother-in-law is not alone in her concerns about your baby's use of the pacifier. Her point of view was very common a few years ago and is still shared by many people today. However, most child development specialists see little cause for worry when a baby uses a pacifier. As for the effect on your child's teeth, dentists say there is no evidence that pacifiers cause crooked teeth. Concerning the impact on your son's emotional development, rest assured that using a pacifier will do no harm and, in fact, probably will do him good.


The instinct to suck is very strong in nearly all babies, so strong that they often need much more sucking than they get through the feeding experience. Sucking is a great source of comfort to a baby, and a pacifier can provide an easy way for the baby to soothe herself at times when mom and dad are busy and not available to provide comfort. A baby's need to suck is often especially high when she is tired, not feeling well, cutting teeth, or is in an unfamiliar environment that makes her feel somewhat unsettled.


If you were to interfere with your baby's efforts to comfort himself, his need for the pacifier probably would become even more intense. But if your son is allowed to satisfy that need for comfort, he will gradually outgrow his need for the pacifier. The surest way to help your baby grow to be a strong, secure boy, is to show him that you respect his need to feel safe, comfortable, and satisfied now. As your son becomes increasingly sociable, as he learns to babble and make faces and play with others, as he begins to move around and explore the world around him, the pacifier will become less interesting to him. Of course, for many months he may still want the comfort the pacifier provides when he's sleepy and alone, but eventually he won't even need it then. He will develop new ways to feel calm and comforted-like snuggling under a favorite blanket, listening to grandma read a bedtime story, or hearing dad sing a lullaby. Keep in mind that no matter how young or how old we are, we all need comfort. By letting your child find comfort in his pacifier, you are showing him that his needs count.


A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson of the University of Minnesota

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