A lot of parents who use pacifiers feel a twinge of guilt the first time they stick a pacifier in their baby’s mouth. However, dealing with a screaming infant in the grocery line or on a long car trip will make most parents try just about anything to calm the baby down!
The truth is, it often works. Babies are born with the instinct to suck. They have limited means of expressing what they want and cannot tell you if they are hungry, tired or in pain. Sucking soothes them and brings them comfort. This is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in his mouth, whether it is a bottle, breast, finger or toy.Pacifiers certainly have a time and place. If you are desperate to quiet a crying baby, do what you have to do! But, beware of the consequences and know when to ditch the pacifier.
At a certain age, kids are more than capable of learning to self-soothe. A pacifier dependence can cause long-term problems. Many experts agree that generally pacifieruse up until about age one is acceptable. Past age two, there are potential troubling side effects that may arise.
Here are some reasons you should consider ditching the pacifier once your child hits toddlerhood:
Pacifiers interfere with the consolidation of nighttime sleep. If your toddler uses one to fall asleep, she will most likely wake in the night and not be able to get back to sleep until she finds her beloved pacifier. For many parents, this means multiple trips to the crib to help your little one retrieve the pacifier. Even if your child isn’t requiring your assistance, there are still times when your child is having to fully awaken to search the crib, causing fragmented sleep. For optimal sleep, ideally any wakeups your child experiences should be brief. The goal would be that your child would wake briefly and resettle quickly. While brief wake-ups are common in the night for everyone, when a child is pacifier dependent it often leads to fragmented sleep, which can make for a tired and cranky toddler the next day.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends eliminating pacifier use completely by age three. Many dentists recommend limiting pacifier use by age two. With prolonged pacifier use, open bites and crossbites can occur, which can lead to problems with chewing, speech and appearance. If pacifier use is eliminated by age 3(at the latest), these dental issues will often resolve themselves over time, but the longer you hold on to the pacifier habit the less likely it is to self-correct.
Studies are now linking pacifier use with recurring ear infections. In fact, children who use pacifiers regularly are up to three times more likely to develop ear infections. While more research needs to be done to determine why pacifier use may increase the risk of ear infections, one theory is that continuous sucking can change the pressure equilibrium inside the ear.
The critical phase for beginning speech development starts around 6 months of age when babies start to babble. Around the age of one, first words begin to develop. This means babies will start trying on sounds and words and will often babble to themselves and others while they learn this new skill. If they constantly have a pacifier in their mouths, they might be less likely to practice talking which can greatly hinder their speech development. Constant sucking on a pacifier can also cause tongue thrusting which can result in speech difficulties. The dental conditions discussed above can also interfere with the development of the tongue-tip movement needed for producing specific sounds.
So how do you convince your child to give up the Pacifier?
Some kids will start to phase it out themselves as they develop other coping skills around the age of two. But some won’t give it up without a fight! (I have very personal experience with the latter when my daughter struggled to give up her pacifier at the age of 2.)
Here are some ways you can successfully end your child’s pacifier addiction:
Sometimes it can be easier in the long run to make major changes cold-turkey. Just make the pacifier vanish one day and then it is no longer an option for your child or for you to fall back on. This is the tactic I used with my own daughter, but I made it fun for her and involved her in the process. I was hosting a baby shower for a dear friend so I used this opportunity to convince my daughter that she was a big girl now and it was time to give all of her pacifiers to the new baby. We had a scavenger hunt around the house to find every pacifier we could and put them in a gift bag to give to the new baby. My daughter was so pleased to have a gift of her own to present to the mommy-to-be. (My friend was gracious enough to play along and went home with a bag full of used pacifiers! Now, that’s a true friend!)
In the short term it was difficult. My daughter had no problem seeing the pacifiers leave the house, but when it came to a time when she wanted that sucking for self-soothing purposes she sorely missed it and we had to endure a few tantrums. It truly helped me that the pacifiers were out of the house so I couldn’t give in to her demands. It was also helpful to have a story to remind my daughter of where the pacifiers went. “Remember, we gave all of your pacifiers to baby Bella because you are a big girl now and only babies use pacifiers.” It was a tough fight for about 2 days, then my daughter was over it. Short-term pain for long-term gain.
But, the cold-turkey method certainly isn’t for the faint of heart! If you think you may cave, then you may want to try a more gradual method that will be easier on both you and your child.
The 3 Day Method
Over a three-day period, you can start to wean your child off the pacifier. On day one tell him he can only use it in the house. Whenever you go outside the house, tell him it stays behind until you come back. On day two tell him he can only have it for a specific period of time during the day. So for example, only for 30 minutes during his/her TV time or story time. Tell him that on the third day, it will be time to say goodbye to the pacifier for good, and then make sure you stick to the plan.
The Month-long Method
If you are not in a rush to break the pacifier habit and want to slowly transition your child away from it, this could be a great option! Check your calendar and start the process when you have a month-long window when you don’t have a big trip planned or any major changes coming (i.e., a new baby due any day)! Gather ALL the pacifiers in the house and cut a barely noticeable hole on the side of the tip of the pacifier (1 mm will do). Your toddler will likely notice the rough spot. You can explain it by telling her all of her pacifiers must be starting to break because you they are getting older. This gives you the opportunity to acknowledge the change and empathize with your little one by saying something like “Sorry, this really stinks that they are breaking”. But, don’t dwell on it too much. Change the subject and continue with your normal routine. Every 2-3 days gather ALL the pacifiers again and cut another teeny bit off. Eventually, all that will be left is a stump. WARNING with this method: DO NOT take off too much in one day or it could backfire! Patience pays with this method!
No matter what method you chose, be prepared for a few tantrums and tears, but don’t give in! Keep in mind that your little one has likely had an attachment to his pacifier for his entire life, so it is natural that it will take time for him to adjust to being without it. I have found that parents are often far more worried about the idea of taking it away, than the actual reality of it. Our children often surprise us when we give them the chance. The good news is that most children are over it within a day or two!
If you are ready to break your child of the pacifier, but are worried they will never sleep again, I can help! Click the button to schedule your FREE 15 minute consultation today!