Updated: Sep 14
The pacifier, often a parent's lifesaver in the beginning, provides comfort and soothes babies and toddlers during stressful moments. However, there comes a time when we need to help our little ones part ways with their beloved pacifier. Ditching the pacifier can be a challenging journey, but with patience, understanding, and a few of our helpful strategies, you can navigate this transition smoothly. In this blog post, we will explore the reasons to wean off the pacifier, the ideal age for pacifier weaning and methods to achieve your goal.
Why Say Goodbye to the Pacifier?
The pacifier can be a source of comfort and security for infants, but extended use beyond a certain age can lead to potential issues, such as:
Dental problems: Prolonged pacifier use can affect the alignment of the teeth and the development of the jaw, potentially leading to an overbite or other orthodontic issues.
Speech development: Overuse of a pacifier can hinder speech development, as it may discourage children from babbling and exploring different sounds.
Dependency & Disrupted Sleep: Relying on the pacifier too much can impede a child's ability to self-soothe and connect sleep cycles. This can become a problem in the infant stage, but with the tips in this article, you can have a solid plan to drop it cold turkey!
The Ideal Age for Pacifier Weaning
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to when a child should stop using a pacifier, most pediatric experts recommend starting the weaning process between 6 months and 2 years of age. At this stage, children are typically more adaptable and open to changes, making it an opportune time to gradually reduce pacifier usage. Older children may experience a larger disruption in sleep patterns when dropping it vs a baby as they have been using the pacifier longer and have become attached to it.
Gentle/Slower Methods to Drop the Pacifier (Appropriate for Ages 18 months +)
Gradual Reduction: Instead of going cold turkey, consider reducing the pacifier usage gradually. Begin by limiting the pacifier to specific times, such as nap time and bedtime. Over time, decrease these designated periods further until it's only used at nap time. Dropping the pacifier at bedtime should be easier than nap time because your child has circadian rhythms and sleep hormones to help them settle to sleep at that time of day.
Find Alternatives: Introduce alternative comfort items like a soft blanket or a favorite stuffed animal to replace the pacifier's soothing effects. Items like these can ONLY be introduced once baby is older than 1 year. Give the item a name and keep it closer, referring to it often. It’s okay if your child doesn’t form an instant attachment. Keep offering it as something to rely on during sleep times.
Get them Involved: If your child is old enough, get them involved in ‘saying goodbye’ to the pacifier. They can help you gather them all up and place them in a bag to give to the trash man. You could even take it a step further and place the pacifier inside a stuffed animal to be sewn up. This new bear, for example, can instantly become your child’s new attachment item.
Praise and Positive Reinforcement: Acknowledge your child's progress and efforts in reducing pacifier usage. After each nap or bedtime where it wasn’t used, be sure to celebrate with high-fives and big hugs.
Cut the Pacifier Gradually: If your child is emotionally attached to a particular pacifier, consider cutting the tip slightly every few days. This gradual process will make the pacifier less satisfying over time as they are able to self-settle without it.
Set a "Farewell" Date: Involve your child in the process by setting a "Farewell to Pacifier" date on the calendar. Use this time to build excitement and talk about how they are growing up and no longer need the pacifier.
Dropping the Pacifier Cold Turkey
1. What does it mean? “Cold turkey” means the abrupt change or discontinuation of use. This is a common way to drop a sleep prop such as the pacifier.
2. Am I a Bad Mom if I Choose this Method? Choosing to drop the pacifier cold turkey can be a personal choice and is not right or wrong compared to other methods. It is often the most quick and efficient particularly at the infant stage.
3. Does this Method Work Better for a Particular Age? Dropping the pacifier abruptly is often easier at the baby stage as they don’t have too much of a reliance on it at that point and they’ve been using it for a shorter amount of time compared to a toddler or older child. On the other hand, this method CAN be used for toddlers with success. They may protest a little more but the end result can be the same!
4. You Can Still Have a Plan: Ditching it at bedtime first is recommended then following with naps as soon as the next day. You may experience some upset/crying when they are first laid down without it, but staying close or coming back into the room to check on them can be an adequate way to help your baby fall asleep for the first time without it.
Give Yourself Some Grace During This Time
Be Patient: Understand that pacifier weaning might not happen overnight. Be patient with your child's progress and offer support during this emotional transition.
Comfort and Reassurance: Your child may experience anxiety or difficulty falling asleep without the pacifier. If you’ve sleep trained before, go back to the basics of how you established independent sleep. Many times, your child may not even need too much reassurance and they may surprise you that they were ready to sleep without it. If you want sleep support from our dedicated sleep consultants, we are here to help.
Stay Consistent: Consistency is key during the weaning process. Stick to the established plan and avoid giving in to the temptation of returning to the pacifier. Throw them all away or keep just a couple in your diaper bag for car rides and appointments.
Saying goodbye to the pacifier is a significant milestone for both parents and children. While the process may present some challenges, it is essential to remember that it's a natural part of a child's development. The best advice here is to pick a method or strategy that works for you and be consistent with it. Children really do their best within a consistent environment as it gives them the best opportunity to develop a consistent strategy of their own when it comes to self-settling.
Lindsay Loring is the author of this article! She helps families drop the pacifier every week as she coaches them through her sleep programs with Tweet Dreamzz Sleep Consulting. If you find that dropping the pacifier for your baby or toddler is too overwhelming, reach out. We will develop a plan that can help both you and your child thrive!
Book a call with Lindsay today! www.tweetdreamzz.com/book-now