Many parents want to know: what’s the deal with pacifiers? Do they help? Do they hurt? Can we use one if we’re breastfeeding? Should we use one for our baby?
Very young infants use suckling to self-soothe, and a pacifier, like a thumb or a fist, can help a young infant to settle down when they’re tired or stressed. Once a breastfeeding baby is latching well, a pacifier won’t sabotage nursing, and can mean a few extra minutes of precious sleep for tired parents — a gift more valuable than gold! There’s even some evidence that they can help to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or Crib Death).
Not all babies like a pacifier, but if yours does, you can let him have it without feeling guilty at all. You can even use swaddling to hold the pacifier in place (carefully using the handle to keep the blanket below the nose), and get a few more minutes of sleep.
So if we use one, when and how do we get rid of it? Why would we want to?
If you don’t want to see your child going off to school still using his pacifier, the easiest time to get rid of it is between 4 & 6 months. By that age, most infants have found other ways to soothe themselves and are able to give up the pacifier. Children protest more about giving it up the older they get beyond this age, begin to demand the pacifier throughout the day, and often awaken during the night only because they need parents to replace the pacifier so they can fall back asleep. Prolonged pacifier use can create an excessively open bite, making it more likely that you’ll have an orthodontist in your future. Prolonged use can also diminish talking in toddlers; when their mouths are plugged up all day long, they aren’t as likely to speak.
To get rid of a pacifier, you can just start putting your baby to sleep without it. While you may have a couple of tough nights, he’ll be falling asleep without it in no time, and you’re on your way to long nights of uninterrupted sleep.
Even if your child has already passed that age of golden opportunity, it’s not too late. Start by making the pacifier only for bedtime. Make a special place for it — up high out of reach, and maybe in an opaque container, where it can’t be directly seen — and create a fun routine of placing binky in it’s special place first thing in the morning. This strategy can have the added benefit of making bedtime more appealing, as that comforting time when binky gets to come back down off of the shelf. Then use a milestone age to make that final leap of ending it all together – “Now that you’re a whole year old…” or, ”Now that you’re two…” Pick a time when you can stick to your commitment, not a time of high stress for the family, or the night before an important 8am meeting at work. Once you start, do not give in, or you’ll just reinforce protesting louder and longer.
You’ll have a few tough days and nights, but you’ll all get through it, and your child will have the pride of being “such a big boy!”
Dr. Sarah Springer, a Kids Plus Doc, serves as the Medical Director of Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania.