baby and pacifierBinkies, pacies, boo-boos. Pacifiers go by many names, but they're all known for the same thing: calming crying, colicky babies. And while the faithful pacifier can be a miracle for parents, there are some tricks to using it that maximize its benefits while minimizing its drawbacks. If you're considering using a pacifier with your infant, here are a few things you need to know.

Never substitute a pacifier for the breast or bottle
Never offer a pacifier to your baby when she is hungry. Sucking can tire an infant, especially a newborn. If your baby expends all her energy sucking on her pacifier, she may not nurse well when you offer her the breast or her bottle later, and she won't get the vital nutrition she needs to grow and thrive. If it is nearly time for your baby's feeding, or you suspect her fussiness is due to hunger, always offer her something to eat before turning to the pacifier.

Know when to replace it
Pacifiers, like everything else, deteriorate with use. Check your baby's pacifier for signs of wear. Cracks in the surface can harbor harmful bacteria, and a badly worn pacifier may be prone to breakage which could present a choking hazard. If your baby's pacifier has a cracked surface or any loose parts, it's time to buy her a new one.

Keep it clean
If baby drops her pacifier, wash it thoroughly in hot, soapy water and rinse it well, otherwise you're exposing your infant to the millions of germs found on the average floor. A quick run through the dishwasher works well, too. Think twice, though, about popping it in your own mouth to clean it off. A recent press release from the American Dental Association warns that doing so can transfer cavity-causing bacteria from parent to child, increasing the child's risk of dental problems later in life.

What about developing teeth? Pacifiers can affect a child's growing teeth, but only if used for long periods of time and for many years. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends offering infants pacifiers rather than letting them suck on their fingers because it's easier to gently wean a baby from a pacifier than from her own thumb.

Used sparingly, and never in place of a feeding, a pacifier can be a great way to calm and soothe your baby, and maybe even soothe your own nerves a little bit too.