I frequently hear from parents that before their child was born, they thought they would never use a pacifier. Then once their baby arrived and had a strong urge to soothe by sucking, all those firm beliefs went out the window. Pacifiers can be a great tool, especially for babies who want to be sucking all the time, and it doesn’t have to be a problem unless it becomes a sleep crutch.
Here are some of the pros and cons of the paci and ways to figure out what to do about it and when to make a change if it has become a sleep crutch.
Pacifiers can be a great way to soothe your baby. Don’t forget that your baby was likely to be sucking on his hands when he was in utero. Sucking is one of Dr. Karp’s essential 5 Ss to help soothe your baby. In the first 3 months, your baby has very limited ability to soothe himself. Unless your baby has successfully figured out how to suck his thumb and then remembers that it makes him feel better, the pacifier can be a very helpful tool.
There is also research that suggests that pacifers can help prevent SIDS.
For young babies who are still being swaddled, the unfortunate news is that when your child doesn’t have access to their hands for soothing, you are going to be the human “rebinker.” Since children don’t typically have the pincher grasp required to put the pacifier back in their own mouth until about 8 months old (although I have seen some particularly determined children do it around 6 months), it is likely that until he is able to pop it back in on his own, you will need to do it for him.
If you keep the pacifer until your child is a toddler, inevitably, there will come a day when you have to get rid of it.
Pacifers have also been linked to higher rates of ear infections in children.
What to do when the pacifier that has become a problem
If your baby is not at an age when he is ready for sleep coaching, you will probably need to keep the paci until you can begin sleep coaching. This can happen as soon as 4 months for some babies while others need to be closer to 6 months. If your baby is ready for sleep coaching and you want to be done with the paci (at least at night), then I typically recommend getting rid of it at the same time you do sleep coaching. There is no way to wean the paci, it is either in or its out. I find that cold turkey is the only option. After 2 or 3 nights, your child won’t remember that he ever used it.
If your child is able to put the paci in his own mouth but just doesn’t do it (meaning you have seen him do it during playtime or he is able to pick up pieces of food and put them in his mouth), then it is time to encourage some paci independence. You can start with putting the paci in his hand and then guiding his hand up to his mouth, then just put it in his hand and eventually pointing to it on the mattress in his bed and saying “here is your paci, put it in your mouth.”
Hint: if he loses the paci in the crib during the night, put several in there and use a breathable bumper to keep the pacis from falling out through the crib rails.
Getting rid of the paci for an older child
I don’t typically recommend getting rid of the paci for a child over 15 months (children become very attached to things at about 15 months and will begin to experience another burst of separation anxiety) until he is 2 or 2½ and has a bit more ability to have a conversation about what to do about the paci (more on that in a bit). Truthfully, by about 9 months, the paci has become your child’s security object and taking it away will be likely to produce a great deal of distress. If you are going to do away with the paci between 9 and 15 months, introduce a security object or lovey.
If your child is an age when you can have a conversation about saying good-bye to the binkie (around 2 or 2 ½ or even 3 years old), begin talking about what is going to happen a few days before getting rid of the paci so that you can help your child prepare for the changes. Make sure that you are not choosing a time of new stresses like moving into a big bed, right before a trip, or when a sibling is about to arrive on the scene. You can read a few books that address the topic like Little Bunny’s Pacifier Plan by Maribeth Boelts, No More Pacifier for Piggy! by Sam Williams, or Goodbye Binky: The Pacifier Fairy Story by Sinead Condon.
Here are a couple of ideas of plans you can make with your child:
- Give the pacis to the “Paci Fairy” who can exchange them for a new special toy to sleep with.
- You can pack them all up and bring them to your pediatrician to give to less fortunate children who need pacis.
- You can take a paci to Build a Bear and your child can put it inside a new stuffed animal to sleep with.
Whatever you decide to do, make a plan and stick with it consistently. Expect that there will be tears of frustration and a few rough nights ahead but trust that your child can learn this.