As a sleep coach and child guru (can I call myself a guru? Well, I just did) I get asked about pacifier use ALL THE TIME. Many parents want to know if they should even introduce pacifiers, when should they be introduced, when should they be removed, and most importantly, what should they do if it is impacting their child’s sleep!
I am going to give you the lowdown from both a parent and professional perspective.
What are the benefits of using pacifiers?
We know that when a pacifier is popped into a mouth of an infant, they usually stop crying like some sort of magic trick. But what about a pacifier that makes them so calm? When babies have a pacifier in their mouth, the sucking sensation helps to calm them down and self regulate. Same thing goes for their thumb, and the bottle or nipple.
When should I introduce a pacifier?
Introducing a pacifier right from birth is okay. If you are nursing, it may be beneficial to wait to introduce a pacifier until your baby has a good latch. However, if you want to introduce a pacifier right away while breastfeeding, just make sure you have support because the biggest concern you may run into is pain and nipple confusion. Someone like a lactation consultant can help ensure your latch is pain free and monitor and correct for nipple confusion.
When should I take the pacifier away?
There are many factors that go into play when deciding to take away the pacifier. Many are concerned about teeth placement but many Pediatric Dentists say that it's okay to keep a pacifier for nights until the age of 4 as children's teeth will go back if they have moved forward as a result of the pacifier. So don't feel any pressure to get rid of the pacifier just because you think they are old enough. Your child goes through so many rapid developmental changes in the first 3 years that having their pacifier as a comfort and soothing object really can help them through those transition times.
By 6 months, however, I recommend moving the pacifier use to just naps and nighttime as constant use can interfere with oral development and language development.
The earlier you make this switch the easier it will be for you and your child so keep that in mind when deciding when to transition to just naps and nights. The earlier you decide to do this the better the transition will be but generally between 10 months to 3 years is hard because they have become dependent on it and feel they need it to help them self-regulate.
If you decide that you do want to eliminate the pacifier just remember there is no real weaning as it's either in their mouth or not. Prepare for some hard nights at first but they will learn and adapt. Just like anything, it is a change for Baby, so be patient and stick to your grounds and they will have forgotten about it in no time!
What if my child’s sleep is negatively impacted by a pacifier?
If you're having issues with your child during nap and bedtime because they can't put the pacifier back in their mouth once it falls out there are a couple ways to help them learn how to do this.
Practice during the day. From about 5 months babies can reach for things in front of them and bring their hands to their mouths. This is a great time to practice while on the floor playing. Scatter a bunch of pacifiers out in front of them and help them to pick one up and put it in their mouth.
If they continually need you to put the pacifier back in during the night begin by putting it in their hand but not in their mouth. This will help build the independent skill of putting it in their mouth on their own and will cut down the amount of nights you have to wake multiple times to put it back in.
Scatter pacifiers around the crib so they have one within reach wherever they are. This won't always work on it's own but in combination with daytime practice it will work.
No matter when you chose to introduce pacifiers or when you chose to take it away, it is up to you and your baby. Some babies need the sucking sensation to self regulate more than other babies. It is not a bad tool to have to help them as they grow and develop so much in the first year of life.