Pacifier, nuk, binky, plug – whatever name it goes by in your house, it can be a blessing and a curse. We often have parents ask about pacifier use, and especially when to wean a child off of one.
We know that from even before birth, babies have a need for non-nutritive sucking. This natural reflex helps digestion, may aid in the transfer to nutritive sucking on the breast or bottle, may help babies that have reflux (pacifier use leads to more saliva which is a natural antacid), and has been shown to shorten hospital stays, and aid weight gain. “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) actually recommends parents put their infants to bed with a pacifier. For reasons not completely known, this practice is proven to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which can occur until a child reaches their first birthday. Offering an infant a pacifier at nap or bedtime is considered a healthy habit,” (Kids Dental Online). And of course, pacifiers pacify babies. Infants can self-soothe, manage stress, and be comforted with a pacifier.
Despite all the benefits of a pacifier, prolonged use can cause problems for children. Pediatric dentists have found that extended use can affect dental development, promote tooth decay, cause ear infections, limit language development, cause a lisp, or impair speech development. However, experts have varying suggestions on when to “lose” the pacifier. “The easiest time to stop using the pacifier is just before about 4-5 months of age. Babies don’t remember things exist at this point so out of sight is literally, out of mind. If you’ve been giving them lots of soothing sleep cues (swaddle, white noise, sleep routine), the loss of pacifier at 4 months may go virtually unnoticed” (Precious Little Sleep). Family doctor Sumi Sexton, MD says “Wean your baby from a pacifier at 6 months old, when the risk of SIDS drops and ear infections become more likely” (WebMD). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics “when your child reaches one year of age, you may want to talk with your pediatrician about how – and when – to start weaning your child from the pacifier (American Academy of Pediatrics). After reading all of the literature on pacifiers and their benefits and flaws, Peace of Mind strongly encourages a child to be weaned from a pacifier by age 2, if not sooner.
We’ve addressed the why and the when, but “how” seems to be the most concerning aspect of weaning a child from a pacifier. We suggest:
- limiting the pacifier to bed/nap and stress inducing times such as getting immunizations, and then slowly reducing use as a whole, until eliminated
- substituting the pacifier with other comfort items, such as a “lovey” blanket or stuffed animal
- “donating” the pacifier to other/younger children
- having a goodbye pacifier/big kid party to mark the transition to being without a pacifier
- “losing” the pacifiers and going cold turkey
- making it taste bad (make sure the product you use isn’t harmful for children to ingest!)
- setting a date, and counting down with your child to when s/he is a big kid and no longer needs a pacifier
- buying a new toy that your child picks, and letting them “pay” at the register with their pacifier
- “Having a visit from the Paci Pixie – Help your child box up their pacifiers and leave them for the Paci Pixie to pick up. After the child goes to sleep, throw away or donate the box of pacifiers and leave a toy in their place. It is the same idea as the tooth fairy but with pacifiers (famifi)
Make sure that every care giver knows your specific plan for weaning from the pacifier. Consistency is important from both mom and dad, as well as any other caregivers, such as grandparents, babysitters, and preschool providers.
If you’d like more suggestions, or have any questions, please contact Peace of Mind at 651-731-2608