They go by many names like binky, dummy, lovey, paci and soothie, but there’s nothing quite like the pacifier. Parents worldwide have used soothing devices for thousands of years to pacify and calm their wee little ones.
Sucking is a natural instinct for babies, and pacifiers are one way to satisfy that need. They can help when your baby is fussy, before falling asleep and in public places.
“Pacifiers have also been shown to greatly reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or sudden unexpected infant death (SUID),” said Alice Antonescu, MD, a pediatrician at Banner Health Clinic in Fort Collins, CO. “The periodic sucking on a pacifier can also aid in lowering heart rate and blood pressure and reduce the chances they will stop breathing.”
While your baby has taken quite a liking to their paci over the last few months, you may wonder at what age you should start weaning them off it. Like thumb-sucking, their pacifier is a habit that will eventually need to be broken.
Dr. Antonescu shared expert tips on when and how to successfully wean your child off their pacifier.
When to wean a child off a pacifier
Pacifiers offer many benefits when your child is an infant, but as they age, the risks outweigh these advantages. So, where is that “sweet spot” or period in which you should get rid of the pacifier?
While your parent friends are a wealth of information when it comes to raising children, you may be surprised to find that they have varying answers when it comes to the best age to wean a child from a pacifier.
“If you ask any parent when they weaned their child, you’ll get a myriad of answers,” Dr. Antonescu said. “However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends weaning in the second six months of life—6 months to 12 months.”
It’s around this time when your child can begin to experience an increase in separation anxiety, stranger danger and will seek ways to soothe themselves. It will become more difficult to wean them as they become more attached to their pacifier.
Pacifier use should also be stopped or limited during this time to reduce the risk of otitis media or ear infections.
“Pacifier use after 15 to 18 months (about 1 and a half years) can also be detrimental to teeth development, especially if used very often,” Dr. Antonescu said.
The AAP says that sucking a pacifier after 4 years of age can also affect the shape of a baby’s mouth and how their front teeth align as they come in. Just imagine those orthodontia bills!
How to wean a child off a pacifier
“There really is no one approach that works for every parent,” Dr. Antonescu said. “There are so many factors involved but two pacifier weaning approaches that I’ve seen work are either weaning cold turkey or slowly.”
1. The “cold turkey” approach
This approach can work well if everyone is on board. That means, no hiding a pacifier just in case you can’t take the crying or begging. It takes a great deal of patience on your part (and may include a couple of rough days/nights) but stay strong.
2. The slow transition approach
If you can’t bear tearing your child’s pacifier away from them cold turkey, a slow transitional approach may work better for you. It may take longer to wean them off, but this approach may work, particularly for older children.
“Start by limiting the pacifier to only naps and bedtime for two weeks, then only bedtime for two weeks and finally no more pacifier,” Dr. Antonescu said.
Additional tips in the weaning process
Whatever approach you choose to use, here are some additional tips to keep in mind.
- Avoid snipping the pacifier. Snipping the tip can make sucking the pacifier more difficult and less enjoyable, but it’s not a really good idea. It could lead to swallowing in too much air or choking.
- Find a paci replacement. Let your little one pick out a stuffed animal or blanket to snuggle with instead of a pacifier. These can offer them security and comfort, particularly during naptime and bedtime.
- Don’t start during life changes or illnesses. Delay weaning from the pacifier during an acute illness, infection or surgery. Their pacifier can be a source of comfort and aid them through those times. If you’re moving or have any major life changes, too much change can be too disruptive.
- Use positive reinforcement. If your child is old enough to understand, use praise to help encourage the behaviors you want to see.
- Get creative. From the pacifier fairy to sticker rewards, there’s always a fun way to creatively get rid of their pacifier.
- Don’t give up. Whether you have a couple of bad nights or a week, that’ll be it. Some sleepless nights are a small price to pay for saying bye-bye to the pacifier.
Weaning your child off a pacifier may seem like a challenging feat, but rest assured they will eventually break the habit and let it go. You won’t see them going off into adulthood with their binky in hand!
There are many ways to approach pacifier weaning but make it easy on you and your child by sticking with it. And, remember to be patient.
If you’re concerned about your child’s attachment to their pacifier or are looking for advice, talk to your child’s health care provider or find a Banner Health specialist near you at bannerhealth.com.