Babies often crave non-nutritive sucking—sucking as a separate need from feeding—to calm and soothe them when they become over-tired, bored or fussy. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that pacifiers can help safely satisfy these sucking needs and potentially offer your baby some protection against SIDS. When choosing a pacifier for your baby, one of the first things you need to do is determine whether you want your baby to use a latex or silicone nipple. While your baby’s preferences might ultimately guide your choice, latex pacifiers can pose health risks for some babies.
Silicone and latex pacifiers consist of a nipple mounted on a shield with ventilation holes. Latex pacifiers are softer and more flexible than their more rigid silicone counterparts. Both types of pacifier come in a wide range of colors and styles, including the classic round nipple or “orthodontic” versions with a round top and flat bottom.
While latex pacifiers' softness might make them initially more appealing to your newborn, pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene stresses that their flexibility causes them not to last as long as those made of silicone. They can also break more easily when chewed on by older babies and toddlers with teeth, who might be able to tear off chunks of the latex nipple. Silicone pacifiers also retain fewer odors and can be easier for parents to keep clean.
Pacifiers can harbor germs and bacteria that might increase your baby’s chances of developing infections. A 2009 “American Family Physician” article outlining the risks and benefits of pacifier use suggests that many pacifiers show evidence of contamination by Candida and bacterial organisms—and that latex pacifiers contained the highest levels of these contaminants.
Keeping your silicone or latex pacifiers clean and discarding them when they show signs of wear and tear can minimize your child’s chances of experiencing injury or illness due to pacifier use. Always look your baby’s pacifier over carefully before placing it in her mouth—screening it carefully for discoloration, holes, tears or weak spots. Wash the pacifier frequently with warm, soapy water—this is especially crucial for children younger than 6 months, according to ConsumerReports.org, due to their immature immune systems.
ConsumerReports.org, the online version of the nonprofit magazine, recommends that parents buy silicone instead of latex to minimize their child’s risk of experiencing an allergy or sensitivity to latex. This is especially critical if your family has a history of latex allergies or sensitivities. Babies suffering from a latex allergy might develop a rash or asthma—or even go into shock when exposed to latex, according to MedlinePlus, the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s online database of health information.