Pacifiers: We Love Them and Hate Them

image credit: César Astudillo

Before babies are even born they have a natural tendency to suck on thumbs/fingers. It is a great way for them to explore their environment and it provides comfort.  Between 2-4 months of age, infants tend to have the most need for non-nutritive sucking. And that’s most often when they begin to latch on to a pacifier.

Here’s what’s good about that:

  • They are great to use as a sleep aid.
  • They help a child to learn how to self soothe.
  • The can help with reflux. Pacifiers are not recommended as a treatment for acid reflux, however the sucking action may help to keep stomach fluid from rising upwards in the throat

Many children let go of the pacifier before 3 years of age, while others may continue use it. As a Speech Language Pathologist, I recommend getting rid of the pacifier once most major teeth have come in or around 2 years of age. As a mother of a 2 ½-year-old that still takes a pacifier, I recommend to do as many baby steps as your child needs in order to keep life sane and get rid of the pacifier by the age of 3.

Here’s why it’s not a good idea to keep it around:

  • Long term use or using the pacifier after permanent teeth have come in may result in future dental issues.
  • Increased risk of middle ear infections.
  • Prolonged pacifier use may lead to a delay in the child’s ability to swallow appropriately.
  • Some children come to rely on their pacifier for comfort and have no other ways to self soothe.
  • The older a child gets, the more difficult it may be to socialize and be accepted with peers if he/she still needs a pacifier.
  • And it can lead to one major problem: speech problems

Since using a pacifier involves an immature suck-swallow pattern, some children who use these over a long period of time may experience a delay in developing more mature tongue movements, resulting in sound errors. Often these errors are sound distortions or a lisp.

 Here are some tips for getting rid of the pacifier:

  1. Keep it out of sight. As the saying goes “out of sight, out of mind.”  You can try to go cold turkey and this will work for some children, however, remember to keep your child’s personality in mind when trying to figure out the best way to rid this habit. Most children do best when a large change is moved in a more gradual manner.
  2. Be consistent. It may be a challenge with lots of tears and tantrums in the beginning, but giving up only allows your child to take control and the pacifier to still be in your lives.
  3. Pacifier time. Set up a rule that it cannot leave his/her bed and is only used for sleep purposes.  Another time to limit the pacifier is when your child is coming into a new developmental period.  For example, you can limit the pacifier time when your child is moving into the ‘learning to crawl’ stage or ‘learning to talk’ stage.
  4. Comfort toys/blankets. find another thing that your child can become attached to in order to self soothe.  Some children prefer a favorite teddy bear or blankie. Help them to learn that these items can also be as soothing as a pacifier is.
  5. Donate the pacifier. This is a great technique for an older child.  You can have them take them to a new baby because “pacifiers are for babies and this is a new baby who needs a paci!”  You can have them donate them with other items for the Salvation Army or other cause your family may donate items to.

One very important thing to remember: be patient! You’re most likely not going to see a change over night. You may have a little baby who is fine with a pacifier being taken away because they have not grown attached to it. You may have a screaming, tantruming, non-sleeping toddler. But remember that in the long run, you will succeed with patience and consistency.

Doing things in numbers is always a good idea. Find a friend with a toddler and go in on the paci-band together. That way the kids can stress out together and the parents can console each other.

— Kristina Frimmel, M.A. CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist

2 Responses to “Pacifiers: We Love Them and Hate Them”

  1. 1 Anonymous February 23, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Great article, Kris! So true about the love-hate relationship. Thanks for your wealth of knowledge and encouraging tips…very useful. I used the blankie as a way to transition and it worked great. I was given another tip for the blanket – bedtime only. It was nice not to have to worry about a blanket be dragged all around or lost.

  2. 2 Diane M. RN February 23, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I would add to the cons: pacifier use can lead to problems with breastfeeding, and to the pros: recent studies are showing pacifier use can reduce the incidence of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

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