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Pacifier - Benefits, Safety and Weaning

Posted on September 22 2020

Although pacifier use in infancy is encouraged, it's best to wean your child off the pacifier between two to four years old, or even earlier. Help your baby safely use a pacifier and then as he/she grows older, gradually reduce his/her reliance on it.

 

While the pacifier can be a source of comfort to your infant, as he/she grows older you may want to wean him/her off it to avoid misaligned teeth and getting ear infections.

 

When your child is an infant, using the pacifier has several benefits. These include reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and helping your little one self-soothe. As your child grows, he/she will learn other ways to cope with his/her emotions and will not need the pacifier as much. It's best to wean your child off the pacifier when he/she turns three, or earlier. Learn more about how your child can safely use pacifiers as well as weaning him/her off them.

 

What You Should Know About Pacifiers

Your baby can calm him/herself down with the pacifier, especially during stressful situations like flying on a plane, going to the doctor’s or even to help him/her fall asleep.

 

Contrary to what some might believe, pacifiers will not cause nipple confusion. To be on the safe side, introduce the pacifier a month after you’ve created a breastfeeding routine. Other benefits of pacifiers include reducing the risk of SIDS. For instance, sucking on the pacifier may open up the air space around the baby’s mouth and nose, so he/she gets enough oxygen.

 

In a pinch, it can help soothe your little one. For example, if you're on a flight or at the doctor’s. Moreover, you can also control when the pacifier should be used. Additionally, it can help your little one learn to soothe him/herself and fall asleep on their own. An alternative to the pacifier might be finger and thumb sucking, a habit which might be harder to break.

 

However, this might become a bad habit for both you and your baby, especially if you reach for the pacifier to automatically soothe your baby. In such instances, you might be neglecting your little one’s needs, such as a tummy ache or an uncomfortable diaper. Moreover, babies may become over-reliant on falling asleep with the pacifier and you may need to get up in the middle of the night to continually pick it up.

 

Safely Using a Pacifier

It’s safe to give your baby a pacifier in the crib, but don’t reinsert it after he/she has fallen asleep.

 

Some safe tips to consider are to give your child a pacifier when in the crib, but not reinserting it when he/she is asleep. Next, avoid attaching it to her crib, stroller or playpen, or hanging it around your baby’s neck with any cord that’s more than 15cm longer. This constitutes a strangling hazard. You may use clips and shorter tethers instead, but never when your baby is asleep. Another type of pacifier to avoid are the ones with attached pieces, as it can pose a choking hazard.

 

Make sure to clean the pacifier frequently with soap and hot water, rinsing thoroughly and replace it regularly. Of course, you shouldn’t dip a pacifier in any sugary substance because it’s bad for your little one’s gums and developing teeth. Additionally, never delay or replace a meal with a pacifier, or use a bottle nipple as a pacifier.

 

Weaning Off Pacifiers

You can gradually reduce the amount of time your baby uses the pacifier after six months, till she’s completely weaned off it.

 

After six months, the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that using a pacifier be restricted to prevent the risk of ear infections. While there aren’t any strict guidelines when it comes to weaning your child off pacifiers, the American Dental Association discourages pacifier use after four years. This is due to concerns about having misaligned teeth and changes in the roof of the mouth. These may occur if your baby is using the pacifier past two years old.

 

Infants

If your baby isn't overly dependent on the pacifier, you can start to transition away from it after seven to nine months. At this age, start by noticing how often you reach for the pacifier to soothe your baby, and then try reducing your use of the pacifier. Start with times when your little one may not really need it, and then delay giving the pacifier to your baby.

 

Try other distractions, like a favourite toy, plushie or blanket to help soothe your baby. Eventually, you’d want to offer the pacifier sparingly throughout the day and then gradually wean your baby off it. At night, instead of offering the pacifier, create a bedtime routine. This might consist of a bath, a bedtime story or goodnight kiss. The key to the routine is to be consistent, and your baby will develop strong positive sleep associations.

 

Toddlers

Gradual Weaning

If you’ve missed this window, you can try again between 12 to 15 months. There are a few ways to approach this, including a slower toddler pacifier weaning or quitting cold turkey. First, you could start by gathering up all the pacifiers around the house, and car, and reduce the number to just a few. Also, ensure you retrieve any stray pacifiers so none are lost.

 

Additionally, you can start by removing the pacifier during the day, when your child is distracted. Next, you can replace the pacifier with a stuffed animal or blanket, and let your little one develop an association with this item as a soother. After removing the pacifier, put it out of sight where your child is unable to see it. Alternatives to pacifiers include teethers, necklaces to gnaw on, and whistles.

 

Another way to do this is to decrease the use of pacifiers outside of sleeping by taking out a time period at a time. Otherwise, you can reduce the time that your little one can go without it. Try working up to using the pacifier only during naps, and then weaning them away from bedtime. As with younger babies, have a solid bedtime routine, that includes snuggles, singing, storytime and bathtime so it’s consistent and gives them comfort.

 

The 3-Day Plan

One other method to do it is over three days. On the first day, encourage your child’s enthusiasm in doing more grown-up things and his/her independence. In line with this, in three days your child will have to bid farewell to his/her pacifiers. Keep this talk to under half a minute and then move on.

Giving your little one time to get used to the idea will help him/her prepare for change. The next day, repeat the same 30-second talk twice a day, changing the duration to tomorrow instead. On the third day, let your child know it’s day three, and make it a fun treasure hunt to round up all the various pacifiers. Place them in a plastic bag, and throw them away, or rope your child into making a fun craft. You can use all the other strategies as above, replacing the pacifiers with a beloved stuffed toy or distracting your little one with another activity.

 

Other Strategies For Weaning

Try going cold turkey around special occasions and birthdays and come up with a legitimate reason for all the pacifiers to go away. For example, you could stress that your child is a big boy, and no longer needs the pacifier. Be firm when your child asks for it, and stress that his/her pacifiers are gone. It may take some time for your little one to get used to the idea. Other ways to do this include making the pacifier unpalatable by putting ginger or vinegar on it. Otherwise, you can also tell your child you’re giving away the pacifiers to characters like Santa, the Binky Fairy or Rudolph. When your son/daughter asks for the pacifier, remind him/her who you’ve given to. It may take some time, but persevere and eventually your child will forget about the pacifier.

 

Relevant Reads: Screen Time - Guidelines for Children Under 6, Baby Sign Language, Newborn Care

Image Credits:

freepik, Cemal Takisra, Ben Kerckx, boryanam.