Pacifiers, otherwise known as binkies, dummies, or soothers, have been a source of great relief (and confusion) for parents.
There are many questions and conflicting ideas surrounding the issue of when and how to ditch the beloved binky. For many, it is a parent’s number one tool in the arsenal when it comes to dealing with an upset infant/toddler.
However, there comes a time when a parent must figure out how to comfort an older child without the use of one.
We’ve all been there. You’re fed up with doing what I like to call, “the parent jig.” This is the familiar dance of bouncing wildly up and down while patting the child’s bottom and stroking the hair; all the while singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for the tenth time in a row. It’s the perfect occasion to stop the madness and introduce the pacifier!
On the other hand, if you’re popping a pacifier in your four-year old’s mouth because they’re throwing a tantrum over cookies in the grocery store, you need to say goodbye to that pacifier!
To avoid losing your sanity and to spare you the judgmental look from strangers in the grocery store, let’s review all aspects surrounding the ambiguous topic of weaning your child from the pacifier.
When Should I Begin Giving My Baby The Pacifier?
There is no set-in-stone rule for this, but many choose to introduce a pacifier within the first few weeks.
If you’re breastfeeding, it is a general rule of thumb to wait until your milk supply has been established and your baby has learned how to latch properly to avoid any nipple confusion.
If your child bottle feeds, you can begin using one immediately.
What Are The Benefits To Using Pacifiers?
1) Pain Relief
American Family Physician medical journal lists several positive effects such as, “shorter hospital stays for preterm infants, and a reduction in the risk of sudden infant death syndrome”.
Pacifiers can also offer pain relief for little ones undergoing routine immunizations and other minor procedures that can cause discomfort.
Pacifiers can calm babies down in order for them to fall asleep.
3) Reduce Risk of SIDS
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents offer a pacifier at the onset of sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Studies have shown a strong correlation between safer baby sleeping and pacifiers, though reasons are still widely unknown.
4) Reduces Cavities
The thought behind this is that older children who are placed to bed with a bottle have a likelihood of developing bottle rot, due to sugar pooling in the mouth and soaking the teeth which can lead to tooth decay.
5) Helpful with Reflux
The use of a pacifier leads to more saliva production which is known to be a natural antacid.
Pacifiers can be thrown away when not needed anymore. In fact, pacifiers should be replaced every two months for hygienic and safety purposes.
Moreover, you can get rid of the paci, but you can’t get rid of digits of children who like to suck their thumbs!
What Are The Disadvantages Of Using A Pacifier Beyond A Certain Age?
1) Dental Problems
The American Dental Association sites some issues caused by thumb sucking and pacifier use. Both “may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and the alignment of teeth.
It also can cause changes in the roof of the mouth.” Essentially, this causes the jaw to be misaligned which can cause the top teeth to stick out and the bottom teeth to be tucked in.
This leads to overbite or underbite.
2) Speech Delay
Huggies, a trusted brand, mentioned a study done by the University of Washington on this topic.
The research found that “children who used dummies or sucked their fingers after age three were three times more likely to have a speech disorder.”
Because of prolonged sucking, the mouth muscles begin to change. This may cause the tongue to sit forward between the teeth and affect their position, which can hinder speech development.
3) Ear Infection
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend weaning children from pacifiers sometime after six months because it has been linked to higher rates of middle ear infections.
4) Dependency Issues
Children can become too attached to the paci at bedtime. If the paci falls out, this may lead to restless sleep and crying spells. This translates to exhausted children and parents!
Having a pacifier present every time your child sleeps can lead you down a slippery slope later down the line.
It is critical that parents follow the guidelines for pacifier safety and replacement.
HealthyChildren.org lists precautions such as ensuring the pacifier is one piece, the shield is made of plastic and has proper ventilation holes, the pacifier is big enough so that it cannot become lodged in the child’s mouth, and to replace them when they look worn or discolored.
When Should I Wean My Baby Off The Pacifier?
There is debate over the exact timing of this, but most authorities agree that pacifiers should start to be eliminated by the age of one. This should be done to prevent speech developmental delays caused by overuse.
Others argue that it is safe to use up until age two. If you find yourself in a constant battle over the binky with your two-year-old, make sure that you at least replace their pacifiers with orthodontic friendly pacifiers.
A pacifier is a powerful tool that can help both the parent and the child through the dreaded sleep regression stages. You may decide to keep it up until this point because you cherish your sleep!
The absolute latest you should wait to ditch the binky is by the age of four. Waiting this long can have irreversible, negative effects on your child and will make your job that much harder.
Some signs that it’s time include:
- Your child is having frequent earaches or ear infections
- Your child is two and has speech impairments
- Your child spits out the pacifier or chews on it
- Your child is over the age of four
- Your child is old enough to self-soothe
How Can I Wean My Child Off The Pacifier The Right Way?
The time has come to say goodbye to the beloved friend. But, how do you go about it?
There are a couple different approaches you can take to getting the job done.
Some suggest that it is easier to get rid of the pacifier when your child is old enough to communicate with you. This way, you can communicate to your child that the time has come to become a big boy or girl and to say bye-bye to binky.
In doing this, you are easing them into the idea.
Other parents believe in “the sooner, the better” theory. They suggest ridding your house of pacifiers at the sixth-month mark since this is considered to be the “sweet spot” when SIDS risks go down.
At this point, your child is not old enough to tell you that they don’t love you anymore and dramatically march to their room to sob.
Kidding aside, there are two basic routes you can choose: the cold turkey method or the gradual process method.
1) The Cold Turkey Method
One day your child is going to wake up and their precious pacifiers are going to be gone. If you’re traveling down this road, there are a few things to consider.
Make Sure Everyone Is Aware
Everyone must be on board with the idea.
The nanny, grandma, daycare worker, partner, anyone who watches your child, need to know that the pacifier is not to be used anymore.
Doing this will eliminate any confusion for your child and will ease the process for the both of you.
You definitely don’t want to deal with the argument, “But, grandma lets me use it! She is cooler than you!” Battle lost.
Leave No Pacifier Untouched
Next, be certain that you collect ALL binkies.
Go around the house and rummage the car one, two…five times until you know that there are no pacifiers lurking in a dark corner to haunt you and to derail your mission.
Some sources present the idea of a “Pacifier Fairy”. Explain to your child that the fairy will come during the night to take their binkies away and replace them with a new toy.
This approach is fast and relatively painless!
Make The Pacifier Less Appealing
If your child has a few bad experiences with the pacifier, they will be less likely to turn to it as a source of comfort.
You can dip the pacifier tip in lemon juice, pickle juice, olive juice, anything that would seem yucky to your little one.
Other parents have reported success with cutting the tip of the binky and claiming that it is broken. There’s no gratification for the child if they can no longer suck on it.
Just be careful to toss the pacifier out when you mess with the integrity of its design. It could pose a safety hazard.
2) The Gradual Process Method
Maybe you are hesitant to pull one over on your child and to just eliminate all binkies in a fast and furious style.
Perhaps, you fear that you will cause some trauma to your child that will resurface later on in life.
If this is you, then you will want to slowly phase out pacifiers in a methodical manner.
You will want to ensure that you give your child advance warning of what will happen and prepare them for this transition.
Make It A Positive Experience
Avoid telling the child too much or turning it into a negative thing.
Put a positive spin on the situation by telling your child that they’re getting so big and that they are ready to do big kid things now!
Praise your child for reaching this milestone, but don’t ask for permission to take their pacifiers away.
Be sure to present it to them as a matter of fact thing. This is happening. (Whether they like it or not!)
Don’t Eliminate Pacifiers During Inconvenient Situations
Pacifiers have been your child’s source of comfort from a young age.
Avoid taking away the pacifier during stressful life events such as moving, or the first day of daycare, or removing it during an unsettling or new location.
One source notes that pacifiers should only be removed during “zero distress” scenarios. For example, when the child is in a good mood, at home, and is otherwise comfortable.
Eliminate The Pacifier During Certain Times Of The Day
Many advise to slowly phase out the pacifier during little chunks of time over the course of a few days or weeks.
This may start with banning pacifiers from car rides, then add no pacifier rules that apply to nap time, then nighttime, then, eventually, all of the time.
Start A Countdown
You may want to have a countdown with your child. For example, in X amount of days, the binkies will disappear.
In my middle school days, I loved making paper chains to count down important events.
Each day, and as you get closer to “doomsday”, involve your child by taking a ring off the paper chain. On the big day, throw a party! Have a mini celebration with cake or your little’s favorite treat!
Make It A Game
Incorporate some fun into the situation! You can host a binky scavenger hunt or treasure hunt. Get elaborate as you want with this. Check out Pinterest for ideas.
You can hide a pacifier in each room and create a treasure map or create clues that lead your child to the location.
If your child is younger, make it an egg hunt. Hide the pacifier inside the egg along with a sticker, toy, or candy.
It could also serve as a good learning time to review colors with your child. For example, tell your child that the pacifiers are only hidden within the blue eggs, or whatever.
Appeal To Their Unselfish Side
Tell your child that they have the chance to donate their binkies to other boys and girls who need them much more than they do.
Reiterate the fact that they are big now, and that these other boys and girls will just love that they shared their binkies with them!
Help your child decorate a shoe box or egg carton and place the pacifiers in the donation box. It’s hard to pass up an opportunity to get messy with paint or to overdo it with stickers galore!
Give Incentives And Rewards
Many parents are supporters of having a reward system in place such as a sticker chart.
Each time that the child goes without the binky during a specified amount of time, place a sticker on the chart. X amount of stickers = a prize!
Read A Special Book
There are some favorite books among moms that cover the topic of getting rid of the pacifier.
Barnes & Nobles lists the top six books which include titles such as, “Pacifiers Are Not Forever” and “The Paci Fairy.”
Have A Goodbye Ceremony
Your child is likely very attached to their binky, and the execution of ridding it from their life needs to be treated with kid gloves.
Show your respects for the pacifier by burying it in the backyard, so that they know it is always there. They can visit the pacifier whenever they wish.
Some have modified this method by sending it off into space by tying it to a balloon and releasing it. Others have sewn the pacifier into a favorite teddy bear.
How Can I Comfort My Child Now That The Pacifier Is Gone?
Whichever method you decide is best, you need to have some other tools in your parenting kit to deal with those inconsolable times.
When a pacifier is no longer an option, you need to incorporate other measures of comfort.
Swap The Pacifier Out With A Transitional Object
You need to replace the pacifier with a transitional object. Depending on your child’s age, this could be a stuffed animal, a blanket (blankie), or some other favorite item.
Provide Other Means Of Comfort
If you are weaning your child at a younger age, the pacifier would not be replaced with an object, but rather an action. For example:
- Rock your baby
- Use white noise or a “susher” machine
- Pat their back
- Stroke their hair
- Rub their tummy
- Sing a song
- Talk soothingly and softly
- Provide a lot of sleep cues for your child (bath, read a book, give hugs and kisses, etc…)
- Establish a consistent routine
Wrapping It Up – What Can I Expect?
Removing the pacifier from your child’s life may prove to be a very trying time for you and your little one.
Despite your best efforts, you may feel defeated in the process – but do yourself a favor and cut yourself some slack!
Stand firm in this decision knowing that, ultimately, this is in the best interest of your child. They may put up a fight now, but they will thank you for it later when they are six years old and see that all of their other friends are paci-free.
Follow the above steps and allow room for mistakes. After all, there is no set rulebook for this whole parenting gig!