Pacifiers are a commonly used soothing tool for infants and toddlers, and many parents dread the day that they have to get rid of it. This article discusses when pacifiers should be taken away, the consequences of extended pacifier use, and some tips for parents to hopefully help the process go more smoothly.
The general recommendation is that children should be weaned off the pacifier by age 3.
Risks of prolonged pacifier use include overdependence on the pacifier for soothing, dental problems, and increased risk for ear infections.
Recent research has confirmed that pacifiers do not have a significant impact on speech development.
Parents can consider various strategies for getting rid of the pacifier, including cold turkey, gradual release, and imaginary play.
To help children sleep without a pacifier, parents should consider a consistent, comforting bedtime routine, introducing imaginative stories that cater to their child's personality.
Why is it so hard to get rid of pacifiers?
Pacifiers can be a source of deep comfort to your child. This begins early on as an infant. Babies have an innate desire to suck due to the sucking reflex that is present at birth. Therefore, using a pacifier meets that need. As your baby grows, the sucking reflex provides an outlet for coping with stress.
By the time your baby approaches toddlerhood, an association is made between the pacifier and feeling soothed. For example, toddlers may use the pacifier as a sleeping aid or a comfort measure during times of stress. The longer the pacifier is allowed to be used as a calming mechanism, the more ingrained that dependence can become.
Up to 85% of children use a pacifier, and they can be highly beneficial. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of pacifier use is the decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Pacifiers have also been associated with better sleeping patterns and calmer temperaments in some studies.
Age recommendations for taking away the pacifier
While there is no strict age requirement, it is recommended that children wean off the pacifier by age 3. Research also suggests that using a pacifier after 2 years of age can lead to complications.
Generally speaking, the sooner you take away the pacifier, the easier the adjustment will be for your child. The longer your child depends on the pacifier for comfort, the harder it will be when the pacifier is not available anymore.
Consequences of prolonged pacifier use
Prolonged pacifier use does have some risks, including:
- Dependence. Overdependence on the pacifier for self-soothing.
- Dental. Dental problems, such as misalignment.
- Ears. Increased risk of ear infections.
Do pacifiers delay speech?
Recent studies indicate that pacifiers do not have a significant impact on speech development. This research further suggests that delays in speech are more likely to occur with significant daytime use rather than bedtime use. Although some therapists believe that pacifiers are partially responsible for some of the delays they treat, proof of this has not been supported in recent research.
How to get rid of the pacifier without crying
Getting rid of the pacifier depends partially on your child’s temperament. For some toddlers, getting rid of the pacifier is relatively quick and painless. For others, weaning can cause distress at first.
There is really no way to know for certain how your child will react. That’s why having a planned strategy that you can commit to will help ensure the process goes smoothly.
Here are some strategies parents may use:
- Cold turkey. For this method, all pacifiers are removed from the child’s environment with little or no warning. Have an answer ready when your child inevitably asks where their pacifiers have gone. Consider extra ways you can comfort your child during this time, especially before sleep.
- Gradual release. This is a popular method in which parents gradually wean their child off the pacifier. First, parents remove the pacifier from the routine during times that the child is least likely to miss it. Setting goals that you can make progress towards can be helpful. Be sure to communicate with your toddler. Don’t ignore their questions when they eventually catch on.
- Imaginary play. This works particularly well for older toddlers. The parent explains that “The Paci Fairy” comes to take pacifiers from children who no longer need them and give them to children who do. You can really play this up by helping your child pack the pacifiers into a box, decorating it, and putting it in the mailbox or on the doorstep to “send”. Similar to The Tooth Fairy, The Paci Fairy could leave money or a toy in exchange.
Regardless of the method you choose, it is important that you communicate your decision to all the child’s adult caregivers, such as grandparents and daycare workers so that everyone is on the same page.
How to get your toddler to sleep without a pacifier
For many parents, getting rid of the pacifier at nap time and bedtime is the hardest hurdle to overcome when using the gradual release method.
It is important for your child to have an established bedtime routine that is consistent and calming. A white noise machine, a long bath, or a bedtime feeding can all help replace the comfort that a pacifier can bring. Just remember that routines take time, so you may have some rough nights along the way. Stay strong and don’t give in, or you could undo all the hard-earned progress you’ve made!
For children over 1-year-old, you may consider introducing a “lovey” at bedtime, such as a baby blanket or stuffed animal. If your child asks for the pacifier, encourage them to snuggle with their lovey instead. Eventually, they will make the association between their lovey and comfort.
You can also get creative and tell bedtime stories associated with pacifiers — particularly heroes who said goodbye to theirs. A bit of imagination can go a long way.
There is no denying that getting rid of the pacifier can be daunting. Establishing a plan of action that you can stick to is the surest way to success.
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