Pacifiers can be beneficial because they satisfy a baby’s natural sucking instinct, provide comfort and distraction, and can help your baby soothe and fall asleep. Pacifiers have been associated with a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), according to several recent studies. Researchers speculate that pacifiers may keep babies from rolling onto their faces or may keep their tongues forward and away from their airways.
On the other hand, after 6 months of age, babies who regularly use pacifiers have a higher chance of developing middle ear infections than those who don’t. Doctors believe this is because continuous sucking causes pressure changes within the ears and can potentially prevent fluid drainage, causing it to build up, creating an infection.
Frequent pacifier use, past 12 months old, could interfere with a child’s language development skills, say some experts. The reason is two-fold: A child might be less likely to practice making sounds and words when they have a binky in their mouth. Plus, the act of sucking might cause the tongue and lip muscles to develop abnormally. It’s possible prolonged use of a pacifier could contribute to the development of a lisp.
As for dental problems, before age two, your baby won’t suffer any long-term damage to her teeth, according to WebMD. Any problems that do develop before that time will likely self-correct within six months of kicking the pacifier habit. After age two, problems including slanting teeth can begin to occur. And pacifier use beyond age four, when adult teeth begin to form, can mean long-term dental issues.
Pick an uneventful time to start weaning.
Avoid trying to wean during major life events like the arrival of a new sibling, starting a new daycare, or before a road trip, when you baby could use the extra soothing.
Get all your child’s caregivers on board.
Make sure all caregivers are aware of your plans for the pacifier. You want the message and experience regarding pacifier use to be consistent at home, at daycare, and at grandma’s, or you’ll risk confusing your child. So, if you want the pacifier used only at naptime or bedtime, for example, be sure to communicate to all adults involved.
Gradually limit use.
Sometimes a gradual approach will make transitions smoother. Start by removing the pacifier in “zero-distress” situations, like when your child is home, happy, and playing. Once she’s used to not having her pacifier at home, eliminate its outdoor use by telling your child that the binky doesn’t go outside.
Stopping “cold turkey” may work, but it could make for a rough couple of days. Remember that your child probably treasures his pacifier, so be sure to treat it like a good friend to whom you must bid a fond adieu.
Offer alternative comforts.
When you first take away the pacifier from your baby, you’ll probably need to soothe them in other ways. Rocking, a gently swinging motion, soft singing, and gentle massage are some ways you can help ease your baby’s discomfort and help them settle down without the aid of a pacifier. For older babies, blankets with soft, satiny edge or a snuggly stuffed animal could provide the comfort your little one wants. These transitional objects will relieve stress and help your baby adjust and self-soothe at night.
Be sure you don’t scold or use any negative reinforcement if your child does resort back to the pacifier. Negative reinforcement will create fear, stress, and distrust, often leading to regression.
Make their pacifier unappealing.
If your little one is very attached to his pacifier, it might take making their pacifier unappealing to help them break the habit. One way to do this, dip the pacifiers in white vinegar or lemon juice. The terrible taste could make your child swear off their pacifier for good.
Another way many moms try is to pierce a hole in the tip of the rubber nipple, which disables the sucking power of the pacifier. Just be careful when altering a pacifier and be aware that it could become a choking hazard if small pieces come apart.
Elicit your child’s help in giving the pacifiers away.
Some moms have success using reason with their young child. You could explain that your child is now a big kid and that there is a baby out there who needs a pacifier to stop crying. Engage your little one in decorating a box for the baby, then gather up all of the pacifiers and place them in it. If you have a friend with a baby, make a big deal about handing over this box for the baby. Be sure to offer a lot of praise and a small gift to your toddler for being such a kind and generous “big kid.”
Have a farewell ceremony that includes a reward.
Introducing a “Binky Fairy” or other fun character is a fun way to say goodbye. Tell your child the imaginary friend will come as soon as they are ready to be done with their pacifier. Help them collect all of the pacifiers and place them in a box on the doorstep, or in a basket you can hide outside. Make this ritual as big of a production as you feel is necessary to help your child let go. You might even want to put the date on a calendar that then countdown the days with your child until it’s time to give their pacifier away. The new friend or fairy will then leave a comforting surprise in place of the box.
You deserve a reward too!
You may want to give yourself a well-earned reward for enduring this transition as well. Remember to relax about your child’s own timeframe. When is the last time you saw a teenager running around with a pacifier?
Written by Darla Davis, Speech-Language Pathologist, Kids Who Count