The History of the Pacifier


Photo: Getty Images

Like lots of newborns, my son cried – a lot. To my first-time-mom ears, it felt like he was wailing every waking moment. In desperation late one night, I called a cousin who was a pediatric nurse for advice. “Is he sick? Is his diaper too tight? Is the room too cold?” I asked, not even holding back on my real admittedly-neurotic fear, “Is he upset because he’s realized I don’t know what I’m doing?” Her answer was mercifully matter of fact. “He probably just needs a Soothie.” “Ah,” I said. “Now, uh, what is that?”

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I quickly learned she was referring to that soft one-piece pacifier that you see all over the place, Philips Avent Soothie Pacifier, the current bestseller in the category on both Amazon and Target. My husband ran out to the 24-hour CVS and we frantically popped one in my son’s mouth as soon as he returned. Then…magic. My crier calmed down and promptly drifted of to sleep. Why we hadn’t thought of that obvious fix first I can only attribute to sleep-deprived brain block. Parents, after all, have been giving their cranky kids pacifiers since the dawn of civilization, literally.


An antique coral pacifier. (Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art) 

Knotted rags, wood beads even stone, bone and coral pieces were fashioned for little one to suck back in the day, The New York Times reports. The pacifier as we know it evolved from the “Baby Comforter,” that Jersey City, New Jersey inventor Christian Meinecke introduced at the turn of the 20th Century. Two years earlier, another Jersey City innovator, Thomas Borcher, filed a U.S. patent application for a “Nipple-Holder.”

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“The object of my invention is to provide a holder for blind nipples or nipples that are generally used by teething children,” Borcher wrote in his 1898 patent application. “And to so construct the said holder that when the nipple is secured thereto the nipple cannot be separated from the holder unless it is purposely removed.” Sears & Roebuck got on the bandwagon in 1902, offering a faux ivory ring with a soft rubber nipple attached, according to one report.


Photo: United States Patent and Trademark Office 

Today of course, pacifiers are available in any and every drugstore in a dizzying variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. The only significant difference is in the material: latex or silicone. Silicone is preferable, finds an in-depth report in Consumer Reports, because babies can develop an allergy or sensitivity to latex. Shape actually doesn’t matter. Even if a pacifier is labeled “Basic,” Julie Barna, a doctor of dental medicine and spokeswoman for the Academy of General Dentistry tells Consumer Reports it’s more often than not “orthodontically correct whether or not they’re labeled ‘orthodontic.’” What does that mean for babies? Merely that ‘that your baby’s top and bottom jaw are in correct position when he’s sucking on it,” she says.

The real debate regarding pacifiers is over when to introduce one – and when to remove one from your child’s likely iron-like grip on it. “If you’re breastfeeding and concerned about nipple confusion, the recommendation is to begin using a pacifier after the first month of life,” Sumi Sexton, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine tells Yahoo Parenting.

After month one, there’s a good two-year window in which babies can benefit from sucking on pacifiers. “They can help with soothing and pain, when baby is getting vaccines, for example,” says Sexton, author of Pacifiers Anonymous: How to Kick the Pacifier or Thumb Sucking Habit. Her 2009 research published in the American Family Physician notes too that pacifier use has been determined beneficial in the first six months of life for the connection found in reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Pacifiers may also benefit some babies’ sleep, adds Sexton. “Sucking is a very powerful thing. Even in utero babies are seen sucking their thumb. It’s a natural part of growth and development.” Pacifiers can also become a safety object that children develop an emotional attachment to, she adds.

That bond is what can make it so difficult for parents to get kids to kick the paci habit between ages 2 and 4 – the time frame that experts recommend. “Starting after 12 months, you can start to see some dental changes as a result of pacifier sucking,” Sexton says. “And you do see changes after 2.” At risk is the alignment of kids’ teeth and bite, which could lead to more permanent changes that would require intervention. “Prolonged use has been linked to teeth malformations,” adds Ruby Natale, PhD, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics in the Departments of Psychology and Early Childhood Education at the Mailman Center for Child Development, Miami.

How parents go about parting the child from his pacifier is a bit like sleep training. “Quickest, most effective is cold turkey, for kids 4 and older, but not everybody can do it,” says Sexton. “You’ll have one caregiver who has an extra one and caves then you’re sending mixed messages.” There are graduated methods as well and ultimately both work, she assures. “The most effective way is whatever is going to get the job done,” says Sexton. “And that’s different for every family.”

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