Scientists Issue Warning Over Baby Pacifiers

Researchers have found that overexposure to pacifiers affects the language skills of infants by the time they reach the age of 2.

The study examined 1,187 infants based in Oslo, Norway, to explore the speech and language implications of pacifier use.

Infants were divided into two age groups, 12-month-olds and 24-month-olds. Each child’s parents were asked to provide detailed hourly reports specifying how regularly they were administering the common comfort to their offspring.

This was achieved across two-month intervals, where the team was able to calculate the total number of hours spent with the soothing aid across their childhood so far, known as Lifespan Pacifier Use (LPU).

Each parent also completed detailed questionnaires featuring Communicative Development Inventories (CDIs)—lists of words common in the vocabularies of each age group, and whether their child was familiar with them or not. The scope for 24-month-olds in this case was up to 731 words. CDI scores were transformed into age‐ and sex‐adjusted percentiles using Norwegian norms. Its findings showed that children with a higher LPU enter life as a 2-year-old with less vocabulary at their disposal.

Children with a higher average LPU as they approached the age of 2 had lower scores in vocabulary comprehension and production—the capacity to speak and be spoken to. By extension of this, they are more likely to be in the lower percentile for vocabulary size. The more a pacifier was used, the lower the child’s vocabulary score.

Notably, controlling the number of hours each participant used a pacifier—in some cases, lowering the total hours for those with dependent tendencies—saw no alterations to their vocabulary. The speech constraints were removed, but the developmental limitations remained in place.

Pacifiers take the pressure of mothers to continually breastfeed, as well as aiding the pain tolerances of young children. There are now concerns that those with a high Lifetime Pacifier Use (LPU) should be weaned…

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Pacifier use in the U.S. peaks at around 3 months. While the health benefits (easing discomfort and the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)—sometimes known as “cot death”—are widely supported, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends discontinuing pacifier use by age 3.

Previously, this has been due to concerns about the physical detriments of pacifier dependence, primarily dental impairment and increased risk of middle ear infections (otitis media). Up to 85 percent of Western infants use one at any point in their development.

This new information provides a further contribution to a growing scientific consensus that these impacts go beyond the physical, and into the social, obstructing a key period in child development.

Experts argue that extensive pacifier use might limit the time infants spend practicing verbal communication, thereby hindering their vocabulary growth. At an earlier age, infants having pacifiers in their mouths present fewer opportunities to practice making sounds and forming words, which are crucial for developing language skills.

As far as future considerations are concerned, the study recommends it is “important to note that the effect of pacifier use on early language development may be modulated by other factors such as parent-child interactions, parental depression, or the child’s temperament.”

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