Why soothers stir up strong emotions

Use of pacifiers is a key area of conflict in the battlefield of parental judgment

With all of our greatest intentions as first-time parents, many of us may have uttered the line: “My child will never use a soother.”

It seems the use of soothers entered the battlefield of parental judgment some time ago, mostly for the perceived negative affect. Yet, a new report from NUK shows 75 per cent of us give our baby a soother at some stage. Soothers hold a great many benefits which are not always highlighted or understood effectively by the 'Say no to soothers' brigade.

I am pro-soother.
At least now that I am a mother I am.

On my first baby, I failed to pack any soothers in my hospital bag as we were naively adamant we were not going to use them. Day two of my journey into parenthood, mid baby blues after an emergency Caesarean, I begged my husband to get a soother, any soother, from the hospital shop. The baby would not stop crying and I was on the verge of joining her. The type, cost or colour wasn’t in question, which appears to be the case for many parents, according to NUK, which quickly became our personal brand of choice as my husband picked up a white orthodontic soother. It looked wonderfully huge in her tiny newborn mouth, but she magically sucked and slept. Another baby later and I advocate for the use of soothers for those times in parenthood when you simply need to comfort the baby, if not for anything else.



The benefits are much greater than those momentary pauses when the baby needs comforting, however. According to the report, babies feel a natural urge to suck and a soother is a useful aid for relaxing your baby. While your baby sucks, it is training its muscles and perfecting the coordination between the jaw, palate, tongue and lips. This helps support breathing, eating and speech development and effectively prevents misalignment of the teeth.

Further to this, Dr Laura Lenihan, a GP, says: "More research seems to suggest that giving your baby a soother at night-time may reduce their risk of cot death or sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS]. Despite the fact we don't know the mechanisms which cause SIDS, studies demonstrate that soothers might help to prevent this catastrophic event. They should be given every night at bedtime to show an effect."

The active benefits of soothers in the neonatal intensive care unit have also been explored and they have been shown to support feeding through non-nutritive sucking. Sucking on a soother not only provides necessary comfort but has physiological and neurological benefits and encourages the behavioural organisation needed for feeding.

Emily Kelly, superintendent pharmacist at the McCauley pharmacy chain, is a mum of two. Her first son was premature, and she quickly found how important the soother was. "He was being fed via nasogastric tube," she says, "and the soother is how you teach the suck reflex in premature babies. With both my boys we wouldn't have survived without one."

How to use a soother
Kelly's guidelines in giving your baby a soother include:

  • Offer the soother to your baby at the start of every sleep, both day and night.
  • Do not force your baby to use a soother if your baby does not like it.
  • Do not worry if the soother falls out while your baby is asleep.
  • If you're breastfeeding, wait until this is well established before introducing a soother.
  • Do not use clips or chains to attach a soother to clothing (when baby is laid down to sleep) as this is a choking risk.
  • Keep soothers clean and never dip them in sugar, honey or other food and drinks.


Breaking the soother habit can be a tricky one to navigate as our little ones get older but once we move past the recommended 18 months, we’re hitting the age when complications from soother use can arise.

Emma O’Leary, a speech and language therapist and a mother of three, says: “Using a soother and bottles after this age can give your child less opportunity to practise using their lips and tongue for talking. If your child is learning to speak with a soother in their mouth, their speech sounds can often become distorted as they don’t have full control of the muscles in their mouth used for speech.

“Prolonged and excessive bottle or soother use can affect your child’s teeth, causing them to grow out of line. Long-term use can affect adult teeth too. Children can be left with an interdental gap between their teeth which can cause a lisp.”

Emotional attachment

The ideal age for breaking the habit is between 12 and 18 months. The older the child becomes, the greater the chance of an emotional attachment which can often be worse than ripping off a Band-Aid for a toddler.

We made the mistake of believing breaking the habit would be easy for our eldest. Just leave it under the tree for Santa. What resulted were tears on Christmas Eve and Santa’s caring and giving image almost being destroyed for a three-year-old. We immediately reneged and waited for a better opportune moment.

O’Leary says to avoid this seemingly magic trick of giving soothers to Santa, the Easter bunny or any of the fairies in the forest. “These are all exciting and magical parts of childhood, so it’s best not to associate something that’s going to be potentially upsetting for a child with an exciting or happy occasion. At the age of two or under, these characters are very abstract concepts for a young child to understand.”

She advises banishing the soother before 12 months if your child seems less and less interested in it, by allowing it to phase out and offering it less.

She also suggests:
– After six months it's best to use soothers at set times, for example, naps and bedtime.
– Take your child's soother out when they are trying to talk or make sounds or when they are busy playing.
– Once you decide to take away the soother gather up all the soothers in the house and throw them away. This will avoid your child (or you) finding them in an hour of desperation.
– Remember that giving in when they cry for it initially will confuse and upset them more, so as hard as it is, once you have committed to taking it away you need to stick with it.
– It's important to be informed but also choose a time that works best for your family in your given situation and trust your instincts as a parent.