Pacifiers Are Not Evil
I think it’s important to begin our article today with this reminder: pacifiers aren’t evil. They’re not dangerous. (In fact, they may even reduce the risk of SIDS.) However, it is important to avoid introducing them until the breastfeeding relationship is established, if you are breastfeeding (or planning to).
They get a bad rap sometimes, but really, pacifiers can be a helpful tool in the effort to help our babies sleep well. Pacifiers can be a tool to help babies self-soothe without parental aid, and can decrease nighttime waking (that is, unless your baby’s constantly calling for you to come and replace the pacifier after it’s fallen out!)
So let’s remember that like many things associated with baby and toddler sleep, pacifiers aren’t a problem until they’re a problem. If the pacifier fits neatly into your baby’s or toddler’s life (and neatly into yours) then don’t feel pressured to get rid of it.
But what if it doesn’t? What if your baby is waking you 10 times each night to replace the pacifier after it’s fallen out of her mouth? What if you’re sick and tired of toting pacifiers everywhere you go, just so your toddler won’t have to be without one? If that’s the case, it might be time to ditch the pacifier for good.
The Ideal Age to Ditch the Pacifier
Speaking of getting rid of the pacifier — when should it happen? That’s a big question for parents whose little ones are hooked on the binky.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic age. Some parents wean their babies off the pacifier as early as 5 or 6 months; others let their toddlers hang onto their pacifiers until age 3 or 4. Truly, there’s no right or wrong, black or white when it comes to pacifier usage. It’s kind of like baby sleep in that way — babies and toddlers learn to sleep in different ways, and at different ages.
But let’s look at a general truth when it comes to weaning babies and toddlers off the pacifier: the earlier you do it, the easier it’s going to be. The same is true for sleep training, and for potty training, and for so many things associated with raising children.
For this reason, pediatricians usually recommend weaning your little one from the pacifier before age one. The idea is that before 12 months, your child hasn’t had the time (or the cognitive ability) to form a deep attachment to a pacifier, so taking it away may not be as difficult.
Not the case if you try to wean a toddler off his pacifier, however. Starting around 18 months, a toddler has likely formed strong feelings of attachment to his pacifier. Try to take it away then, and it’ll probably be much harder than if you’d done it earlier. Not impossible, of course, but filled with more tears and anger on the part of your toddler (and maybe on your part, too!) Beyond a few years old and you add the risk of causing dental problems, too.
“The best time to wean your baby from the pacifier (or start sleep training or potty training) would be after a child is developmentally ready, but before they have become strong-willed and emotionally attached to the status quo. Just like we recommend sleep training after 4 to 6 months old, we would not really potty train a 15 month old (though elimination communication is becoming a more popular parenting concept). Once a baby has formed an attachment to their pacifier or soother, it becomes more like a lovey and who would wean a 2 year old away from her favorite teddy bear or blanket? But, if your baby is waking up frequently at night and can’t put it in himself, that is more of a problem than a solution.
Neither of my boys had a pacifier (one not by choice and one I made a conscious effort to avoid it). We probably paid for it in the early days, but it was much easier later.”
How To Ditch the Pacifier
Just like there’s no “right age” to ditch the pacifier; there’s no “right way” to do it, either. There are a few things to keep in mind, though, as you create your plan for pacifier weaning:
- If you’re weaning a baby who’s under 12 months, you probably don’t need to be creative. You can probably get by with simply throwing the pacifiers out and then preparing for a few rough, sleepless nights and some short, restless naps.
- If you’re weaning a toddler, you might want to be creative. You can just get rid of the pacifiers when your toddler’s not looking, of course, and end things cold-turkey. But you could also be creative, and get your toddler to help with the weaning process. I knew a mom who told her 3 year old son that they needed to send his pacifiers to children who didn’t have any — he helped her pack them into a box and everything! It turned out to be a great solution for that family.
“Just like most of our Sleep Plans, we often break things up into smaller steps. I have some families stop the pacifier at night, but not during the day. Or, they use the pacifier for sleep and not throughout the day. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, depending on the child. Sometimes we just start slow and then build up to getting rid of it completely. Just like sleep training, what works for you may not be what worked for your friend or neighbor. Some do best with ripping off the band-aid and some do better with slow and methodical.”
Tips for Ditching the Pacifier
Whatever strategies you use to wean your baby or toddler off the pacifier, keep the following tips in mind:
- Plan ahead. Weaning a baby off the pacifier is a fairly small event, but weaning a toddler is big. Very, very big, for some toddlers. So plan ahead, and make sure the pacifier weaning doesn’t coincide with another big event, like a move, or the birth of a new sibling, or potty-training. It’s best to tackle big events one at a time, to help minimize your child’s stress.
- Be patient. There’s bound to be some fussing and sleeplessness when you finally banish the pacifiers. That’s just how it goes. So prepare yourself to be patient, and to ride out the storm.
- Be firm. If pacifier weaning just isn’t working, you may feel like stopping and trying again later. And that may work — we’re not saying it won’t! But that might not be the best approach, especially if you’re weaning a toddler. Why? Because parents, your toddlers are smart. And if they get even the slightest inkling that their actions (crying, screaming, tantrum-throwing, etc.) can make you change course, guess what’s going to happen? The crying, screaming, and tantrum-throwing will only get worse. Better to be firm and consistent now — not only will the pacifier weaning happen faster, but you’ll teach your toddler the valuable lesson that mom and dad mean what they say.
- Keep perspective. For some parents, pacifier weaning belongs in the “Things That Feel Like They Might Literally Kill Me” category. It’s that painful and brutal. But take heart, parents! It’ll pass. We promise. And just think — once you’ve cleared this hurdle, there’ll only be 15 or 16 more years worth of hurdles ahead!
Let’s help each other out — offer your pacifier-weaning tips and insights below!
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