Pacifiers, a love affair worth having? It’s up to you, of course. Pacifiers are hotly debated among some parents, some pediatricians, some lactation consultants, and some dentists. I say some, as I believe not all clinicians have strong impressions/judgments. That’s because pacifiers don’t cause excessive harm. Yet most parents agree on one thing: they all have an opinion about what to do with one. Some hate them, others adore them. Just like babies. Silicon pacifiers can be all the rage, or none of it…
At our house, we had a love affair with a pacifier. Twice. Without even trying. And it all happened by accident.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recommend using a pacifier at night to decrease the risk of SIDS, if your infant doesn’t like one, you certainly DON’T need to force it upon your content baby. Don’t over-think or over-value the pacifier, either.
With F (our first born), I waited, held off, and withheld the pacifier hoping to improve my changes of successful breastfeeding. We had a few sleepless weeks (with the fussing and crying normal for a newborn) until a couple weeks of age when we realize it really was the “plug” he was looking for. F’s crankiness improved, and we had another tool to help support him when holding, rocking, feeding, changing diapers, or swaddling didn’t soothe him entirely. The pacifier was just something he loved.
With O (our second), I didn’t get the choice. While in the NICU, the nurses used the pacifier to “quiet” him down. I asked that they didn’t, but when I returned to feed him, there it was again, in his mouth. And he was in love. So we continued to use it and I didn’t take it from him. As I’ve written before, I loved to see him enjoy and indulge with that pacifier. I mean, he really craved and adored the time he got with it (mostly during sleep or in the car). Weaning him from it was harder on me, it turns out. And I faltered a couple of weeks after the wean during a moment of weakness…
We used pacifiers in our homes until both the boys were just under 2 years of age. And like I said, it really was a love a affair.
The reason is simple, babies soothe by sucking and pacifiers are a perfect tool. My advice on pacifiers: follow your instincts. You’ll be able to find studies both that support use and studies that dissuade use to back up either decision. So don’t over-think this. And stop beating yourself up for using one if you are…
Mama Doc’s Cliff Notes On Pacifiers:
- These are things you already know: Wash the pacifier regularly (dishwasher safe are easiest) in warm soapy water, get rid of old pacifiers that show cracking or damage, and use a one-piece silicone design if possible. Don’t dip the pacifier in anything (ie sugar water, honey, etc) ever. And never tie the pacifier around your baby/toddler’s neck.
- As your child grows, the pacifier should, too. Don’t let toddlers have infant sized pacifiers due to choking risk. Smaller pacifiers may rest more on their front teeth as well and cause more malocclusion or “bucking” of teeth. Get the correct size pacifier if your older toddler or preschooler still uses one.
- When your child approaches 6 months of age, consider weaning. If neither of you are interested in breaking up with pacifier, try again at 2 years of age. By 3 years, get it out of the house or the love affair will cause a most terrible break-up.
Additional Safety Tips on Using Pacifiers:
Mayo Clinic’s Do’s & Don’ts on Pacifiers
Review article about dental problems caused by pacifiers after age 3.
Satisfying your baby’s needs: Pacifiers
My 5 month old baby loves her pacifier. She was introduced to one while at the NICU too just like your first son (we had no option) and she received a few pacifiers at the NICU to take home. I have tried changing pacifiers, tried to buy the same brand (the ones in the stores are heavier than the one at NICU), all in vain! She refuses any other pacifier and will only use the NICU ones( which are about 5 month old now as well). Any input on what I can do about this? I also tried to stop the use of pacifiers- but she got very cranky and demanded them back. I have no idea how to wean her at 6 months as she uses pacifiers a lot ( even at night she cries for it when we wakes up)
Awesome Mom says
My kids never liked them much. Thumbs are where it is at according to them. I can’t figure out where the strong thumb sucking need came from since none of my family did it and no one on my husband’s side did.
We got lucky with all three of our kids. All three were given pacifiers in the hospital. we tried to get them to use them but they all preferred to use me instead. 🙂 They would spit the pacifiers straight across the room. We had one thumb sucker. My first the girl she loved that thumb till kindergarten. The two boys never had anything. They both fell in love with a snuggly around a year but never wanted a thumb or pacifier.
My first daughter was attached to the pacifier and we were able to quit cold turkey right before her first birthday. She immediately became a thumb sucker and has been ever since. At 2 1/2 she still sucks it for comfort, especially if she is upset but I also find her sucking it a night during sleep and if she isn’t actively sucking, it is resting in her mouth. I am concerned about her mouth/teeth if she continues to suck her thumb. What are you thoughts/suggestions on weaning from thumb sucking? Or should I just let it happen naturally? She is attached to a “blankie” but it seems to accompany any thumb sucking.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
It’s not much in a parents’ control—that thumb is your daughters and as much as you try, until she is motivated to stop sucking it, she will likely do so in sleep or during the day. ALthough there are devices to try (thumb sucking splints that children wear on their thumb that prohibits them putting it in their mouth) I most often advise that you pay little attention to it. Constantly reminding her to take it out of her mouth is reinforcement (negative) that may actually increase the behavior.
When she is ready to stop sucking her thumb, then you can serve as a support–to give reminders when she (and you) think it will help.
And yes, sometimes thumb-sucking does cause dental problems so attempting to wean and chat with her about it from time to time may help–you never know, you may be successful and she’ll wean before you expect it!
Thank you for this information. I have a love/hate relationship with pacifiers. They were amazing during the early months. However, my son (at age one) was waking up 3-4 times a night and would not be content until he either found the pacifier or until one of us went into his room to find it for him. As this was becoming a real deterrent to getting a full night’s sleep, we decided that it was time for it to go. I was terrified of the idea of weaning, but after receing lots of advice from other parents, we decided to use the cold turkey method. It actually went much better than I thought it would. After maybe 2 nights of fussiness, we are now happily a pacifier free toddler at age 13 months. Now he is able to get back to sleep on his own and we are getting much more sleep at night.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
I think your experience of getting rid of the pacifier cold turkey is typical. I’m surprised to find that many families say just the same thing you did—within only a few days, they have defined the “new normal” with their child and they are pacifier free!
I have to say I am the biggest pusher of the pacifier when it comes to car rides, shopping trips, etc. Sometimes its a quick “plug” for sudden change in behavior when your in public. I am only dealing with a 12 month old at this point but with my first (who is 5) we negotiated around 2 to get rid of it….saying other babies need these now and she bought it. But I am not looking at getting rid of the pacifier anytime soon and baby #2 sleeps with about 5 in his crib, and it works for me and my family.
I think that making a generalization that by three-years-old your child should be pacifier free is wrong. My child is nearly four and is still using a pacifier. However, he is a special needs child and developmentally delayed. While he is nearly four, mentally he is closer to two. Please don’t forget that when you talk about what is average you leave out parents of special needs kids. A pacifier to my son can sometimes be the best help in navigating a very strange world. It doesn’t always have to be sucked on, sometimes he just needs to know that it is there. A parents gut feeling will always tell them the right way to go. If you know it’s time to give it up, it’s right. If you know it’s okay to keep going, then I don’t think anyone should tell you it’s wrong. Regardless of how old your child is.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thanks, Mrs Mama,
Inevitably, with each post I write, I leave someone out. And here again it happened. I’m sorry. There is, of course, an exception to every rule in medicine (and life). Thanks for providing the reminder!
My son loved his “bobo” right from the start! He was a very contented baby, nursed very well, slept very well. Pretty much the only vice he’s ever had in his life (he’s 19 now!). I don’t think it gave him addiction troubles or insecurities! I waited until he was good and ready to “break up” with it. The week he turned 3 years old we collected all the stray bobos from beds, couches, car seats, purses and such, put them in a bag and he “bought” a Fisher Price pirate ship with them at Toys R Us (I slipped the clerk a credit card too). He asked for it a couple of times, but not too big of a deal. Like many transitions in his life I just waited until I knew he was ready.
I am a Speech Pathologist who grew up sucking my thumb. In spite of the thumb sucking and the speculation that it would ruin them, my teeth were perfectly straight and I never had braces. So, I never took thumb sucking or long term pacifier use as a serious problem.
However, last year I began seeing a child in my Speech program where it obviously was. This boy was three years old, spoke fewer than 10 words, had a severe open bite (you could put a full-sized spoon through his closed teeth) and was a constant pacifier user.
I immediately recommended removal of the pacifier as contributing to the open bite. His parents discontinued it’s use right away. This child is now speaking in age-appropriate full sentences with some lingering pronunciation difficulty.
We expected the open bite to need orthodontics to correct, but, much to my astonishment, his jaw reformed on its own within a year. His teeth are now correctly aligned. Since I am not a dentist, I did not know how common this phenomena is, but I had never heard of such a thing and believe that it is not the norm.
I now recommend getting rid of pacifiers as soon as possible.
I wish my son (6 months) would take a binkie!! I’ve bought a dozen types..,but he can’t keep them in his mouth for long. Instead he is using the bottle to soothe at night. Not ideal, I know. He even started with a binkie as a newborn (hospitalized for 2 weeks) but can’t seem to get it. Not sure what’s worse- binkies, bottles, fingers, thumbs, or breast? 🙂
I was in the same position as you. I kept being told that my developmentally delayed daghter was too old for a pacifier, but to take it away from her was just cruel. There was no explaining anything to her, or reasoning. She just wouldn’t understand and would be very distressed. But that didn’t stop the experts telling me how terrible it was. She finally weaned herself at age five.
My baby has two years old and he won’t leave his pacifier from his hands.
Thekla Richter says
We would offer our son a finger to suck (clean with short smooth fingernails) in his early weeks. Our doula told us that a finger is less likely to cause nipple confusion and therefore much better to support breastfeeding in those critical early weeks. Mostly though he just nursed a huge amount of the time. But it doesn’t have to be either pacifier or boob if you’re breastfeeding – a clean finger is an awesome middle ground.
We finally introduced a pacifier around 3-4 weeks. It was sometimes accepted but not always, and he lost interest in it around 4 months.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Thekla, I’d say: “lucky you!” Pacifiers are necessary (of course) and it sounds like things worked out great for all of you.
Our son is 11 months and he mostly wants the pacifier at naps and bedtime. I’m planning to stop breastfeeding within the next few months and I thought we might wean him from the pacifier around the same time. Now I’m thinking it might be too much at once. Your thoughts?
My daughter is now 9 and looking back, I wish we had never tried to stop the pacifier. She immediately became a thumb sucker and we lost all ability to regulate it. Unlike the pacifier, her thumb was always with her. If we had just kept the pacifier I think she just would have lost interest as she got older. she still struggles with not sucking her thumb.
C. mentele says
Why start using one in the first place? I have four grown kids that never used a pacifier except the first one who was given one by nurses in the hospital which i threw away as soon as i saw it in the bassinet. After that I made sure the baby was always in my room so they couldn’t force one on them. We used other means of soothing like rocking, singing, and talking to them. Giving them a back rub. Swaddling. Pacifiers in my opinion stunt emotional growth. They cause nasty dental problems (60% of orthodontia problems) and create an oral addiction. I absolutely cannot stand to see a three or four year old trying to talk around them. And their parental enablers constantly offering it to them even when their child hasn’t asked for it or isn’t even thinking of it. They will interrupt them in the middle of playing to give it to them. It’s like “here take this it will keep you isolated from your emotions and the emotions of those around you.” It’s not about the child’s need for an emotional cushion it’s all about the parents’ need to not participate in the child’s emotional growth through nurturing them.
Fun reading the strings. My son was so attached to his pacifier that it started to become a real problem. We could not go anywhere without making sure that we had a pacifier in hand. My friend absolutely raved about the bye bye binky method so we decided to give it a try (she found it at http://www.bye-bye-binky.com). All I can say is WOW, worked beautifully for my son with no tantrums, not even one! Super easy and four days later he had no interest in his binky. We really were amazed… highly recommended… Amber
Clarice A. says
We have a newly adopted 14 year old daughter whom we have had for 3 months now.She was in an orphange and due to her daytime wetting and bedwetting,they had her in disposable diapers 24/7.When we got her,we immadiately switched her to cloth pin on diapers and adult size plastic pants[aka rubberpants] 24/7.The one sunday,about 4 weeks later,after mass,i took her to the parish nursery to change her wet diapers and before i changed her,she took a pacifier off of the shelf and put it in her mouth and started sucking on it.As i was changing her she was more relaxed and calm.She took the pacifier home and started using it most of the time.At bedtime,she started using it while i put her nighttime cloth diapers and rubberpants on her,then she would get into bed and suck on it to help her fall asleep.She wanted a couple more pacifiers,so we bought her a couple,and she started using them all the time,and she became more relaxed and at ease!She now wears a pacifier on a ribbon around her neck all the time and uses it.She has some pastel colored rubberpants and a couple of her pacifiers-pink and blue- match the pink and blue rubberpants she wears.