Think it’s finally time for your little one to say goodbye to the pacifier? Or is your child so attached that you’re wondering how you can wean them from it without tantrums and tears?
Pacifiers can be lifesavers for parents with fussy babies and screaming toddlers. They provide great comfort.
But as your child gets older, pacifiers become less helpful and more of a nuisance. While most children wean themselves around ages 2 to 4, others need a little extra help saying farewell.
We’ve experienced the reluctance with our own children and have taken the time to find gentle solutions to make the process easier on you and your little one. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of pacifier use, when the best time is to ditch the pacifier, and seven easy steps to help your child break the habit.
Pros of Using A Pacifier
Pacifiers can be beneficial as they satisfy a baby’s natural sucking instinct, provide comfort and distraction, and help your baby soothe and fall asleep. Pacifiers have also been shown to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) when used at bedtime between age 1 month and 6 months.
The periodic sucking helps keep your baby in a lighter state of sleep, reducing the chance that they will stop breathing (1).
Risks of Continued Pacifier Use
While pacifier use provides many advantages in the early days, as your baby gets older, the risks start to outweigh the benefits.
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 and create an infection.
Prolonged pacifier use after the age of 2 can also lead to dental issues because, as your child grows and matures, their jaw will start to grow around anything consistently held inside of it.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Dental Association (ADA), the overuse of a pacifier can lead to improper mouth development, misalignment of the teeth, and changes in the shape of the roof of the mouth (2). If your child continues to use a pacifier after age 2, make sure you mention it to their dentist so that they can check their teeth and jaw.
Some experts also believe the long-term use of pacifiers can hinder speech development. If your child constantly has a binky in their mouth, they won’t be practicing babbling or talking as much.
Plus, it can distort speech and impede the normal development of tongue and lip muscles.
The Best Time to Stop Using a Pacifier
After 6 months of age, the pacifier becomes more of a habit than helpful. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the AAP, it is best to wean your child between 6 to 12 months of age to avoid middle ear infections, especially if your child is prone to them (3).
To avoid delays in speech development, it’s best to stop using a pacifier by age 1, as this is when important developments in your child’s speech and language learning are occurring rapidly. And to avoid “pacifier teeth,” it’s best to ditch the pacifier by age 2 if you haven’t been able to do it sooner (4).
While these are merely recommendations and not set rules, it’s much easier to wean your child sooner rather than later. Weaning before they start to crawl and walk is best, as they won’t be able to go searching all over the house for their beloved binky.
If you’re having trouble weaning your child by the age of 2, make sure you’re at least using an “orthodontic friendly” pacifier to help limit the risk of dental issues.
An orthodontic pacifier has a nipple that is flattened at the bottom and rounded at the top. They flatten in your baby’s mouth just like a mother’s nipple to provide the most natural sucking form.
They also reduce pressure on the gums and developing teeth and support the shape of your baby’s developing palate and jaw.
How to Wean Off the Pacifier
If it’s time for your child to ditch the paci, then help her do so with minimal tantrums and tears by following these seven steps:
1. Timing is Everything
It’s best not to start weaning around the same time as a stressful event, such as starting daycare, the arrival of a new sibling, taking a long car ride or a family vacation, or moving into a new house.
Your child will need to be able to self-soothe during these challenging situations, and until they have another foolproof way to do so, it’s best not to take their binky away until these events are over.
2. Limit its Use
It’s easiest to start by limiting your child’s pacifier use during the day. You could restrict its use by only letting your child have it when you are at home.
Work up to phasing it out completely during the day and only offer it at naptime and bedtime. Once that is going well, you can eventually phase it out of naptime and then bedtime.
Nighttime always seems to be the most difficult, so it may be helpful to start a new bedtime routine. That may consist of a bath, a bedtime book, some singing, and rocking your little one to sleep. Try out a few things, and see what works best.
3. Offer a Transitional Object
Offer your child a transitional object in place of the binky. A transitional object, much like a pacifier, will help relieve stress and help your child adjust to new or challenging situations.
4. Don’t Use it as Your First Line of Defense
It can be so easy just to cave in and give your child the paci during a meltdown. While there are many reasons your baby could be crying, try your best to not turn to the pacifier first.
Check their diaper and see if they’re hungry. Hold your child, sing to them or play soft music, read to them, rock them, or distract them with toys or activities.
Try to keep your child busy and moving so they are less likely to think about their binky.
5. Praise Your Child When They Choose Not to Use The Paci
Let your child know how awesome they are doing when they choose not to use their pacifier.
Complement them by telling them, “You’re getting so big!” and “I’m so proud of you!” Offer fun little rewards, like stickers, stamps, play dough, or a favorite healthy snack.
Keep It Positive
6. Make it Unappealing
You could also try to make your child’s pacifier less appealing if they have a hard time giving it up. You could dip it in white vinegar or lemon juice to make it distasteful.
Your child will probably spit it out right away and soon want nothing to do with it.
Beware Of Some Methods
7. Have a Special Farewell Ceremony
When your child is finally ready to say bye to the binky for good, celebrate by having a special farewell ceremony. This works especially well for older children.
Take your child shopping, let them pick out a new toy, and allow them to “pay” for their new toy with their pacifier. You could also throw a bye-bye binky party complete with party hats, balloons, and tasty treats.
An Alternative Method: Going Cold Turkey
Going cold turkey can be an effective method for some children, but it may require a little extra patience and creativity on your part.
If you choose to go this route, explain to your child that pacifiers are for babies, and it’s time to say goodbye to their binky because they are becoming “a big kid.” Continue the conversation by telling them all the fun things big kids get to do.
With the cold turkey route, you could “accidentally” forget your child’s paci on a big trip, or you could do an epic farewell event.
You could have your child help you bury their paci with a plant seed, so they can watch the plant grow as they grow, or you could have your child leave it for the “binky fairy” and replace it with that brand new toy they’ve been wanting.
It Won’t Be Easy
Expert Tips From Real Moms
Getting rid of the pacifier is an epic and challenging event. And while not all things that work for one family will work for another, it’s always nice to get some tips and encouragement from other moms.
- Out of sight, out of mind: Simply removing all pacifiers from your child’s reach and sight may help them forget about it.
- Read a “bye-bye binky” book: Find a book that will help your child prepare for the parting of their paci, and read it to them every day. Some mom favorites include “Bye-Bye Binky: Big Kid Power,” “Pacifiers are Not Forever,” and “Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier.”
- Give yourself a break: This can be a stressful time for both you and your child, but remember that a little determination and patience will go a long way toward breaking the habit. Many other parents are going through the same thing, so give yourself some grace.
- You’ve got this: You’re doing awesome, Mama! That paci will be gone before you know it, even if it doesn’t feel that way yet.
Weaning your child from the pacifier can be sticky and challenging, but it’s important to avoid long-term use to reduce the risks of ear infections, dental issues, and speech problems. Make it easy on your child and yourself by weaning gradually with the steps mentioned above.
You could also implement the cold turkey method if these gradual steps simply aren’t working. If you’re still struggling to get your child to wean, it might not be a bad idea to talk to your child’s doctor or dentist for some help.