Let's Talk About Pacifiers

It’s not unheard of for some parents who use soothers to have felt a twinge of guilt the first time they stuck a pacifier in their baby’s mouth. But we all know that dealing with a screaming infant in the check out line at Target or on a long car trip will make most parents try just about anything they can think of to calm the child down!

Because the truth is, it often works. Babies are born with the instinct to suck. They have limited means of expressing what they want and can’t let you know if they’re hungry, thirsty or in pain. Sucking soothes and comforts them, which is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in its mouth (whether it’s a bottle, breast, finger, or toy).

But at a certain age, kids are more than capable of learning to self-soothe and pacifier dependence could cause long-term problems. Many experts agree that soother use up until about age one is okay. Anything past age two and there might be some concerning issues.

Here are some reasons you should consider ditching the pacifier once your child hits toddlerhood:

Sleeping

Pacifier use tends to cause disruptions in nighttime sleep. If your toddler uses one to fall asleep, she will most likely wake in the night and then not be able to get back to sleep until she can find it. Even if the child isn’t bothering you to help, there are still times when it’s causing a full wake-up for retrieval. While brief wake-ups are common in the night, when a child is pacifier dependent it often leads to fragmented sleep and can make for a tired, cranky toddler the next day.

Side note: The American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend offering a pacifier at bedtime and naptime as a protective measure against SIDS; however, the recommended length of use was not clearly specified.

Dental problems

Pediatric dentists recommend eliminating soother use completely by age four, and limiting it by age two. Once your child loses his baby teeth, his adult teeth can be permanently affected by sucking on a pacifier. Overbites and crossbites can occur, which lead to problems with chewing, speech, and appearance.

Ear infections

Studies are now linking pacifier use with recurring ear infections. In fact, children who use soothers regularly are up to three times more likely to develop ear infections.

Speech

Around the age of one, kids enter into their speech development phase. This means they will start trying on sounds and words and will often babble to themselves and others while they learn this new skill. If they constantly have a pacifier in their mouths, they might be less likely to practice talking.

Also, constant soother use can make it harder for a child’s tongue and lip muscles to develop normally, according to Patricia Hamaguchi, a speech-language pathologist and author of Childhood, Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know.

So how do you convince your child to give it up? Some kids will start to phase it out themselves as they develop other coping skills around the age of two. But some won’t give it up without a fight.

Over a three-day period, you can start to wean your child off the pacifier by telling him he can only use it in the house. Whenever you go outside the house, tell him it stays behind until you come back. Next tell him he can only have it during a period of time during the day. So for example, only for 30 minutes during his/her TV time. Tell him that on the third day, it will be time to say goodbye to the soother for good and then make sure you stick to the plan.

Be prepared for a few tantrums and tears, but don’t give in. Parents are often far more worried about the idea of taking it away than the actual reality of it. Most children are over it within a day or two.

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