Parents, I think we can all agree that pacifiers are a godsend. They keep our babies occupied and calm, and that means extra peace and quiet around the home. But as much as we would like to keep these little lifesavers around, experts say they can’t stay forever.
There is a lot of debate, much of it personal, over the acceptable timeframe for pacifier use. And much of the conversation centers around parents’ struggle to take it away. In this article, we will discuss when and how to remove a pacifier from your child.
Babies are born with the need to suck. We don’t think about it much, but babies need to suck, not only to receive milk but to explore their surroundings. Most importantly, babies rely on sucking as a coping mechanism for when they feel nervous. So even if it weren’t a pacifier, it would likely be a breast or a finger that would relieve this anxiety. In fact, babies that need to be nursed more often may be substituting mom’s nipple for a pacifier.
Professionals say binkies should only be introduced after the baby has learned to breastfeed. If the baby is having a hard time establishing a feeding routine with his mother, a pacifier may very well confuse him and complicate the matter.
How do you know when it’s time to stop? Some people firmly believe that their child needs a pacifier, while others believe that pacifiers are actually used to bring peace and quiet to parents. Experts say that it is, in fact, okay for babies and toddlers to use binkies, but that usage should stop between the ages of two and four. Pediatric dentists weigh in and stress that children should be completely weaned from their pacifier by age four, so as to avoid potential complications with growing teeth.
Not all pacifiers are created equal, so it’s important that you pay attention when purchasing your binkies. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pacifiers should follow these guidelines:
When used excessively, pacifiers can cause dental problems like overbite, open bite, and crossbite. These deformities can affect your toddler’s chewing, appearance, and even speech capabilities. Eventually, orthodontics would be required in order to correct these problems.
And even though there are orthodontic pacifiers, there isn’t a whole lot of evidence to prove that they work. Instead, pediatric dentists point to frequency and intensity of sucking as the main culprits of dental complications. On a positive note, pacifiers may actually decrease the likelihood of cavities in your baby, whereas babies who sleep with a bottle are much more prone to developing these issues.
There is also growing research to support that a pacifier may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 20X. The research suggests that babies sleep safer with a pacifier in their mouth because they are less likely to roll over onto their face. Experts say that this is most beneficial during a baby’s first year of life, especially in the first six months.
There is also budding research that supports a correlation between pacifier use and the frequency of ear infections. You may want to experiment with eliminating the binky if your child is constantly sick.
There is a lot of debate on this topic. Some doctors agree that the pacifier can be the last thing to go, after weaning and potty training. But, after one year, sucking is no longer a developmental need. And many kids will actually give up their pacifier sometime between ages three and four.
Mark L. Brenner, the author of Pacifiers, Blankets, Bottles & Thumbs: What Every Parent Should Know About Stopping and Starting (Fireside), says you wean in three days. You start by telling your child, in a matter-of-fact tone, that in three days you will be letting go of pacifiers. You keep this conversation short and sweet, and you do not posit it as a question (it’s not up for debate). Repeat this conversation each day, once in the morning and once at night. On the third day, gather all of the pacifiers alongside your child. Explain that they are growing up and that you are very proud. They may have a meltdown, but stay firm! Brenner asserts that the ordeal should be over within 48 hours, as most children lose interest.
Understandably, you may opt for a more gradual elimination. You can start by taking the pacifier away when your child is engaging in a low-stress activity. Perhaps they are reading a book, coloring, watching TV. Whatever the case, try removing the pacifier when they don’t notice it and when they don’t need it. After that, you can limit the pacifier to certain places in the home. You can start by saying that the pacifier needs to stay inside, and then eventually just in the crib. The last and final elimination can prove difficult. You will have to work at it and stay committed to the goal.
There is the option to go cold turkey, but this may also include a longer period of suffering on your part, as your child takes their time to adjust to the new normal. This may take 1-2 weeks.
You could also approach this by reminding your child that they are growing up. Children love to be referred to as “big kids” because that means new responsibilities and privileges. You may find some traction with playing the big kid card.
This is a new and very popular method where a magical creature, the binky fairy, mysteriously appears one night to take the pacifiers away. If you do end up using this method, make sure to communicate this to your child. Tell them about the binky fairy and be sure to play along the next morning when the pacifiers are gone.
Some parents have opted to break or snip the end of their child’s pacifier. They then show the broken binky to their child and explain that is must be thrown away. Do not get another one!
Start throwing one pacifier away at a time. Slowly but surely, your stock will deplete, and your child will only have a couple left. At this point, you can tell your toddler that once all of the pacifiers have disappeared, they can no longer use them
Children are adaptive creatures. Eventually, your baby will find other comforts in place of their pacifier. This might be a soft blanket or a cuddly toy. You may also have to explore new ways to comfort your child in times of stress. Some of the best techniques include cuddling, rocking, singing, and gentle massage.
According to the American Dental Association, thumb-sucking and pacifiers can cause damage to growing teeth and the roof of the mouth. This is especially true of aggressive suckers, who unknowingly pull their growing teeth forward when they remove their thumb/binky from their mouth.
Though it may be tempting, do not dip your child’s pacifier in an unpleasant substance like lemon juice or vinegar, as both can corrode the teeth. Babies suck because they are nervous or anxious. The ADA suggests exploring your child’s behavior for signs of anxiety. Once you understand your child’s anxiety, it will be easier to comfort them—without a pacifier. Otherwise, you risk prolonged and excessive sucking, which can lead to a misaligned jaw and teeth.
It’s bittersweet to watch our babies grow up. They start walking and talking, and then suddenly, they’re independent creatures with minds of their own. And with all that growing and evolving, it can be easy to miss all the little nuances of their development, including moments when they need to let go. Weaning a child off their pacifier may seem difficult, especially when they are crying for our help. But the truth is, they are ready. If they can ask for it, it’s probably time to chuck it. Not only are we looking out for their development, but we are protecting their dental health.
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