Pacifiers can be a blessing (something to soothe your wailing baby) and a curse (cue that middle-of-the-night search). And then there’s the question of how to clean the thing, considering your baby spends as much time chucking it as sucking it.
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Should you sterilize it every time it leaves baby’s mouth? Live by the 5-second rule and pretend it never hit the ground? Something in between? Pediatrician Jason Sherman, DO, shares his tips for keeping pacifiers clean — and babies healthy.
It’s unlikely your baby will get seriously ill from a dirty pacifier, Dr. Sherman says. But you should still make an effort to keep it clean.
A pacifier that hits the floor — or a tabletop, car seat or any other less-than-pristine surface — can pick up germs. Those germs might be viruses or bacteria that can cause illness. Dirty pacifiers can also spread thrush, a common fungal infection that causes white patches and uncomfortable sores in the baby’s mouth.
“Whenever a pacifier lands on the ground or another surface, clean it before putting it back in the baby’s mouth,” Dr. Sherman recommends. “You don’t want to risk the baby getting sick.”
Should you be sanitizing pacifiers?
Cleaning a pacifier doesn’t have to be complicated, though. You don’t have to go to the trouble of boiling them or using special sanitizers. A simple suds-up with hot water and dish soap will do the trick, Dr. Sherman says.
Wondering about pre-packaged pacifier wipes? They may be helpful in a pinch if you’re far from a sink. But they probably don’t work any better than plain old soap and water, Dr. Sherman notes. “They aren’t necessary if you have the use a sink or soap and water readily available.”
Is it OK to suck on baby’s pacifier to clean it?
What about the age-old technique of popping your baby’s pacifier into your mouth to clean it? The spit-clean method may be common, but it isn’t one Dr. Sherman recommends.
“You might feel healthy, but you never know if you’re carrying germs,” he says. “Sucking on your baby’s pacifier could spread microorganisms that put the baby at risk.”
Some studies have suggested that, as long as the pacifier isn’t identifiably dirty, a parent sucking on a pacifier could lead to a reduced risk of allergy development for the child.
And some past research suggested that exposing babies to germs via your saliva might strengthen their immune systems. But the evidence is far from solid, Dr. Sherman says. And kids hardly need help getting dirty. “Trust me, kids will get plenty of exposure to microorganisms that will help build up their immune systems all on their own,” he says.
For infants, though, your goal should be to help them avoid germs as long as possible. “You don’t have to keep them in a bubble,” Dr. Sherman says. “But you should do your best to prevent them from getting sick — especially babies under 2 months old who don’t yet have much of an immune system and haven’t had their two-month-old vaccines.”
There’s no need to panic if your baby grabs her pacifier and pops it back into her mouth before you can clean it. Just praise her new reaching-and-grasping skills and move on.
“Odds are, it won’t be a problem for most healthy babies,” Dr. Sherman says. “But whenever you can, give pacifiers a quick rinse with soap and water just to be safe.”