Are you wondering how and when you should pull the plug on your baby’s pacifier habit?
(This post contains affiliate links. If you click the link and make a purchase, I make a small commission at no additional cost to you. See my affiliate disclosure here.)
I think a lot of you veteran parents out there would agree, mommyhood is easier with pacifiers. And so is babyhood, for sure! If you haven’t already, check out my previous post about pacifiers. You’ll see I’m actually a big fan of them during babyhood.
But I’m talking about newborn babyhood. The benefits decrease with age and the older the baby gets, the more a pacifier can interfere with healthy development. I typically recommend pacifiers to all of my patients/parents in the first six months. But when baby is about six months old, you need to start thinking about whether or not the benefits still outweigh the risks. At that point, too much paci can be a bad thing. Now, this is not a hard and fast rule. The popular cliché “EVERYTHING IN MODERATION” applies well in this situation. Confused? Don’t worry…I’ll explain. 😉
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION applies to pacifiers, too.
Here are 4 reasons why pacifiers can be more harmful than beneficial to your baby later in babyhood:
1. Teeth. I’m sure you’ve heard rumors or dentists talking about the negative impact pacifiers have on babies’ teeth. This is mostly true. This has to do a lot with how often and how long your child uses the pacifier. Are we talking a few hours a day during naps, nighttime, and particularly fussy events until they’re two years old? Or are we talking about chain-sucking on the paci 24-7 until they’re 5 years old because they (we) are literally ADDICTED to the objects and never grew a strong enough backbone to get rid of them for good?
If a baby constantly has a pacifier in their mouth (especially when they are just clamping onto it and not really sucking) it can interfere with the positioning of their teeth as they grow in. Older babies that bite down on the paci to keep in their mouths all the time are especially susceptible. Kids that babble, talk or cry while clenching their pacifier between their teeth….EGAD! That’s a dentist’s nightmare! (By the way, the pacifiers that claim to be “orthodontic” and are flat on one side are NOT any better than the classic round nipple shape. If you baby only likes the “orthodontic” or flat sided pacifier and won’t take a tradition round paci, it can be a sign of a feeding problem related to improper shaping of the tongue. Contact me if this is your child, and I will give you more information.) My recommended pacifier for newborns is the Avent Phillips Soothie (0-3 and 3-6 months) and for 6+ months I like the traditional Avent pacis.
2. Speech. The function of the mouth as with chewing and talking is called oral-motor control. As you can probably see from reason #2, if babies are practicing communication with sounds and words while clenching an object between their teeth, their speech is going to be negatively affected. For example–Tongue thrust is a common and difficult-to-break speech problem found in late thumb and pacifier suckers. The tongue is supposed to protrude past the teeth for proper sucking and breastfeeding, but it’s supposed to
For example–Tongue thrust is a common and difficult-to-break speech problem found in late thumb and pacifier suckers. The tongue is supposed to protrude past the teeth for proper sucking and breastfeeding, but it’s supposed to stay behind the teeth for many important speech sounds like with T’s and S’s. Again, this relates to excessive, chronic pacifier use. If the pacifier is only used during and around sleeping times in the first year or two, it shouldn’t be interfering when toddlers and preschoolers are practicing more complex speech.
3. Feeding. There is also research showing that a persistent (immature) sucking pattern in older babies and toddlers negatively affects their tongue and jaw movements and coordination necessary for properly biting, chewing and swallowing the more complex textures of normal table foods.
4.Independence. If you, the parent, are not there 24-7 to provide the pacifier, does baby have other ways to SELF-soothe? Do they have a blanket or stuffed animal to cuddle with? (I love these “woobies”–Gund Huggybuddy Blakets and Snooze Baby Security Blankets.) Are they able to suck on (or teeth on) their hands or fingers or some other safe object (when it’s still developmentally appropriate to put objects in their mouths)? This guy, Frenchie Fox Blankie is great for safe, quite nighttime teething.
In the first 4-6 months, it is normal for babies absolutely depend on their caregivers 100% of the time for comfort and safety, but then need to transition into becoming more independent little humans. Whether we are every ready for it or not, we all know that our precious baby birds will need to leave the nest at some point. If we don’t give them their wings and teach them how to fly, they will never make it on their own. (You do want your 18-year-old to graduate from high school and go off to college or get a job without bringing their laundry back for you to do every other weekend, don’t you? Ha!!)
Are you still with me, dear readers? Are you now wondering, “so HOW do we pull the plug when it’s time, EB?”
Well, this part isn’t exactly straight forward either. It depends on several factors including your child’s personality, your level of toughness and external factors in life that may be contributing to how much the pacifier is being used.
When debating the pros and cons of pacifier use, there is a lot to take into consideration. Every child is different and every baby’s needs are going to be different for different reasons. You, the parent, know your child best and ultimately get to make the final decisions. But take some things into consideration.
Why do you use the pacifier? Does your baby have reflux or some other medical condition like a feeding problem? Or do you use it as a mute-button whenever your baby cries, instead of trying to figure out what your baby is actually communicating? It is easy to pop in the pacifier to stop the crying quickly before it escalates. Often parents do this by popping the baby on the boob, too.
In either case, make sure you are asking yourself a very important question. What is my baby trying to tell me when he/she is crying? Your understanding of your baby’s needs is crucial to their overall development and their ability to become competent self-soothers.
Here are 3 strategies for HOW TO pull the plug on the pacifier for good:
1.Cold-turkey. I lean toward cold-turkey strategies in most of my parenting and my professional advice when it comes to shaping children’s behaviors. Kids are quite resilient and flexible, and even though they seem “obsessed” with any one thing in particular (like the birthday episode of Dora-The-Explorer… anyone?), they haven’t really been alive long enough to get overly attached like adults do. (We all know a Dr. Pepper or Mt. Dew addict. Admit it.) It may seem like some sort of baby torture to take something away so abruptly and permanently, but it’ll be over in a day or two and the little one will move on with grace and style, (even if you had to finish off that case of wine…)
2. Gradually with kindness and moderation. This is the strategy my ex always favored, which is how my daughter was eventually weaned off the pacifier at 2 1/2 years old rather than when she and I were ready to ditch it when she was around 12 months. But at about 15 months, she only had her pacifier in her crib at nap time and bedtime or in the car seat on long or distressful car rides. Every once in a while, it would be available to her in times of need, like when she fell and got hurt or when she was inadvertently over-stimulated at Target during her nap time. (Someday we’ll learn, right parents? Ha!)
3. Child-led pacifier weaning. You can choose to let your child make the final call, while perhaps encouraging them to move on. You can read books or tell stories about growing up, encouraging them to become a “big boy/girl” or to give away their pacifiers to a baby in need. I’ve heard some cute stories about how little ones have been able to give up their paci-habit, and I think that there are benefits to empowering children to make their own decisions.
But, in my humble but professional opinion, this strategy is not ideal for anyone. It may seem like you are being a “good” or “laid-back” parent, but it very well could bite you in the butt later. The same goes for any other child-led behavior change strategy like transitioning from parent’s bed to their own bed or transitioning away from daytime naps. (Oh, how I still miss them so much…3+ years later!)
If you let your child decide when they’re ready to move on, you are compromising your authority as a parent. I know “authority” is a strong word, but you know what I mean. It’s called “parenting” for a reason. The parent shapes, directs and teaches the child the ways of the world through their entire childhood. It is our job to make the hard decisions because we have the insight and foresight of what the future holds and what our children need to become happy, healthy, confident, and capable young adults.
Once they turn 18, we can only hope they’ve learned the skills to continue to grow on their own as we stand by on the sidelines with tears in our eyes. Do you want those tears to be of joy or of disappointment or embarrassment? But I digress…
I personally don’t use any sort of deceptive parenting strategies partly because my daughter always sees through it, and I generally try to avoid lying to children even when they’re young for the sake of wanting them to always tell me the truth as they grow up. Kids really are so much smarter than we think…even when they can’t talk, just know they are watching, listening and remembering EVERYTHING!
I promise you, dear readers—
I do not and will not judge any parent for the way they choose to shape their children’s behaviors, as long as they are laced with love and kindness.
Every child is different and not every strategy works for everyone, yes we know. That’s why there are so many of out here in cyberspace seeking and giving advice about surviving and thriving at parenthood! 😉 ♥
Looking for more specific ideas and examples? Check out these posts:
Want to share your effective strategies or infamous parenting failures? Please leave comments below! Make me laugh and your story could be featured in my “Let’s Talk” section. Woohoo!