A pacifier is a device designed to soothe babies when they are upset or teething. The basic design includes a flexible rubber nipple, a plastic mouth shield, and a handle. They come in a range of colors and many pacifiers are designed to be chilled or heated to alleviate the pains of teething. Some pacifiers also include bright colors or light up to stimulate the baby.
Nursing babies may fuss when they are separated from the breast or bottle. While some parents try feeding the baby to calm it, use of a pacifier may be just as effective unless the baby is actually hungry, because the infant is merely seeking a distraction or an enrichment of its environment. Because infants are very tactile and interested in the world around them, a pacifier can help the baby to stay calmer and more focused, and will often stop a baby from crying.
Pacifiers of various forms have been used for centuries, although the design with a rubber nipple did not become popular until the 19th century. Babies were often given objects to suck on or bite as a form of distraction and to encourage the growth of teeth. Sometimes a pacifier would be made out of something simple, like grains wrapped in muslin, especially if the baby was from a low income family. Wealthy parents provided their infants with pacifying soothers to gum made from materials like silver and ivory.
The soft rubber nipple of a pacifier is much more gentle on the mouth of an infant than hard infant chew toys. The baby is unlikely to cut or damage its gums while using a pacifier, and infants who are starting to product teeth can bite down on it without causing any harm. Because a pacifier goes into a baby's mouth, parents should be conscientious about making sure that it is clean, sterilizing pacifiers that have been dropped on the floor in the dishwasher.
In the United States, many people refer to a pacifier as a Binky, thanks to the popular Binki brand of the 1930s. Speakers of British English call a pacifier a dummy, while Canadian and Irish individuals refer to pacifiers by the old fashioned name of soother. Whatever parents call it, a pacifier can be a very useful calming tool for small babies, although use of a pacifier into childhood may not be healthy. Pediatricians have linked delayed speech development and dental problems with pacifiers, suggesting that excessive use may not be a good idea.