Many people have surprisingly strong opinions on pacifiers.
Some will argue that pacifiers help sooth their child and are therefore beneficial. Others will argue that pacifiers shouldn’t be used at all. In between, are those who argue that pacifiers shouldn’t be used beyond a certain age.
There’s just no shortage of opinions on the subject.
Experts do seem to agree that pacifiers are entirely appropriate for a baby (provided breast-feeding is well established first). It’s as the child ages that the issues arise.
Perhaps the most common reason advanced for prohibiting or restricting pacifier use is the effect on a child’s teeth, bite and speech development, and pediatric dentists do recommend limiting pacifier time once a child is two, and eliminating it by age four, to avoid dental problems.
Beyond that, there’s no ‘right age’ – it’s up to the parents.
And just as there’s no ‘right age’, there’s no ‘right way’ to do it either.
Weaning off the Pacifier
Pediatricians usually recommend weaning from a pacifier before age one. The idea is that before 12 months, a child hasn’t had the time (or the cognitive ability) to form a deep attachment to a pacifier, so taking it away should not be too difficult. Starting around 18 months, a toddler is likely to have formed strong feelings of attachment to their pacifier. Taking it away then is going to be much harder.
If your child is already past one, here are some general suggestions on how to proceed:
- Identify what situations trigger your child's desire for the pacifier—many toddlers love to suck on something when they're upset. Start by removing the pacifier in ‘zero-distress’ situations.
- Help your child to self-soothe. When they are upset, distract them with a fun play activity or give them a cuddly toy or other transitional object.
- Let them use the pacifier for only short periods, and only when they really need it. Gradually reduce the time and the frequency.
- Take your child and pacifier to a toy store and let your child pick out a new toy or stuffed animal that will act as a substitute. At the checkout counter, "trade in" the pacifier for the toy.
- Try ‘the pacifier stays in the cot’.
- Star charts can be effective for three to four year olds.
- Have Santa collect all the pacifiers to give to the new babies, and bring toys for the big girls and boys.
Whatever strategies you use to wean your toddler off the pacifier, keep the following tips in mind:
- Plan. 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.
- Be patient. There’s bound to be some fussing and sleeplessness when you finally banish the pacifiers. Prepare yourself to be patient and to ride out the storm.
- Be firm. If your child gets even the slightest inkling that their actions (crying, screaming, tantrum-throwing, etc.) can make you change course, guess what’s going to happen?
If you're tempted to cave, remember that children (and parents) have endured this rite of passage for millennia.
We all get rid of our pacifiers eventually.