Many parents give their babies pacifiers or dummies (a.k.a. “binkies” or “soothers”) to satisfy their sucking needs and to calm them. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) gives pacifier use a thumbs-up under certain conditions.
The AAP urges parents to give their baby a pacifier at naptime or bedtime to reduce the risk of SIDS. However, the AAP adds that there is no need to insist if your baby refuses the pacifier or to reinsert the pacifier if your baby spits it out. The AAP recommends waiting about 4–6 weeks to offer the pacifier to ensure that breastfeeding is firmly established. The AAP also recommends stopping “binkies” at around 1 year of age. Some health care provides suggest that parents wean their children from the pacifier once they are mobile, to reduce the risk of fall-related injuries.
Despite these recommendations, many parents give their children pacifiers throughout the day, when they are awake, and beyond the age of 1.
Extended pacifier use can increase the risk for recurrent ear infections, speech impairment (for children 2 years of age or older), and permanent tooth and jaw misalignment (in children 4 years of age or older). Talk with your child’s health care provider or dentist about your child’s specific risks.
If your child has had unlimited access to a pacifier, you may want to wean slowly. Here are things to consider when weaning:
- Consider when your child uses the pacifier. Is it an all-day companion? A sleep aid? Does it help her deal with stress? When does she seem to need it more, or less?
- Set reasonable, low-stress limits. Children can understand and accept simple rules, such as “the pacifier stays at home.” Later, you can modify it to, “the pacifier is only for sleep.” Eventually, you’ll be able to eliminate the pacifier altogether. If your child is an infant, no explanation may be necessary. Just engage your baby with a variety of other comfort measures, including swaddling, babywearing (in a sling or other suitable carrier), rocking, singing, and dancing. Infant massage may also help.
- Observe your child’s reaction. While you don’t want a years-long weaning process, there’s no reason to rush your child, or expect her to give up her pacifier cold turkey. While some children can easily find other ways to comfort themselves, many need time to accept the transition.
- Engage your child in other distractions. Play with your child; physical activity that gets their whole body moving can help. You may want to offer a soft toy or blanket as a substitute object. (If your child accepts a substitute, you may want to have a duplicate, as a back-up!)
- Don’t backslide. It’s hard for anyone to give up something they rely on, but if you give in and return your baby’s pacifier, you’ll start a negative cycle that will be hard to break. You can help your child through the difficult times with reassurance and distraction.
- Arrange a visit from the “Binky Fairy.” Similar to the Tooth Fairy, the Binky Fairy visits to collect something (in this case, the child’s binkies) and leaves something (often a desired toy) in exchange.
- Stage a ceremony. Some children enjoy a special ceremony in which they discard their pacifier and receive some special recognition or reward in return. Some are more receptive to hearing their pacifiers will be “recycled” rather than “thrown away.”
Whichever approach you use, be compassionate and consistent. Weaning from the pacifier is a big step for your growing child!