When Should You Wean Your Baby Off The Pacifier, and How Should You Do It?
Pacifiers can be a mom’s best friend. They help soothe your baby when they’re upset and help them fall asleep. Eventually, many kids willingly choose to give up their paci, binky, soother, or whatever you’d like to call it as they get older, but some kids are a lot less willing to part with their paci than others. Figuring out the “right” time for your child to part with theirs can be subjective – and is almost always based on your unique situation! Once you’ve decided it’s time, these tips can make the process easier for you and your little one:
Some Benefits of Using a Pacifier
From the time your little one is 14 weeks old in the womb until he or she is two months old after birth, babies have an involuntary sucking reflex. It eventually becomes voluntary as your baby gains greater control over their motor functions, like breathing and swallowing. Pacifiers soothe young children, assuage this instinctual desire to suck, and can even provide pain relief, which is especially helpful when your child is frustrated or overtired.
You may have noticed that by a certain age, babies love putting things in their mouths. They often do this throughout their early development for comfort, security, and sometimes, just because. Sucking on a pacifier is an excellent way to give your child a mechanism to self-soothe safely without potentially putting dangerous objects in their mouths.
Pacifiers can also be a valuable tool for keeping young children calm or helping them fall asleep, but there are other surprising benefits as well. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), pacifier use among babies who are already breastfeeding has been found to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by 50-90% across multiple studies, though researchers aren’t yet sure why this is the case.
Additionally, the AAP also recommends that, “for breastfed infants, pacifier introduction should be delayed until breastfeeding is firmly established.” So, be sure you and your baby have your breastfeeding routine down first before introducing a pacifier!
These findings were consistent even when pacifiers fell out of the child’s mouth while they were sleeping, so if you notice that your child’s pacifier has fallen out of their mouth while they’re snoozing, don’t worry – and don’t try to reinsert it.
When to Stop Using a Pacifier
Every child is different. Some may naturally stop using pacifiers on their own, often when they start eating solid foods. Still, some need help breaking the habit.
The AAP recommends that you give your baby pacifiers through their first 12 months and start weaning them between 6 to 12 months. It also says that a child should ideally stop using a pacifier entirely between two and four years.
Typically, young children stop using pacifiers between the ages of two and four. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) says that children should start weaning off the pacifier by the time they are 36 months old. When a child turns three, their risk of ear infections from pacifier use increases.
How to Help Wean Your Baby of The Pacifier
When you decide that it’s time to help wean your baby of their pacifier, there are a few things you can do to make the process more successful and less stressful for you and your child.
First, set boundaries and be consistent. Start with small steps by gradually but consistently decreasing their daily pacifier time. For example, allow him or her to use their pacifier at naptimes or in the evenings and then progressively minimize the amount of time each day that they are using their pacifier.
It probably goes without saying that your child initially may be upset about this. Remember, it’s crucial to validate their feelings. Be consistent in the boundaries you set, but also be supportive. There are a lot of ways you can do both.
It can be helpful to begin planting seeds well in advance so they know what to expect when the time comes. Let your child know that it will soon be time to use the paci less or stop using it in certain situations. Slowly and gently preparing them to say good-bye to the pacifier one step at a time helps the child get used to the idea of not relying on it and the comfort it provides.
You can offer rewards for specific behaviors that incentivize the child to reduce their pacifier use. Offering to rock them to sleep instead of using their pacifier might be rewarding to some children. Distracting them with objects, games, or attention they enjoy is another helpful way to encourage your child to move past their reliance on their pacifier. Showering them with positive reinforcement when they successfully do something without the paci is crucial. Tell your little one how proud of them you are when they follow the boundaries you’ve set for them.
Depending on their age, you may even want to consider making a plan together, turning it into a bonding experience between the two of you. Removing their pacifiers from their environment when they’re not actively trying to sleep prevents them from being reminded of them and may encourage an “out of sight, out of mind” approach, allowing your little one to gradually forget about them.
You may even want to get creative by throwing your child a “Goodbye Paci!” party. Embrace the milestone it is by framing it as a rite of passage to becoming a “big kid.” You know your child best, so don’t be afraid to try something different if you think it will make the process more enjoyable for both of you.
A Learning Experience
Whatever you do, never take the pacifier away as a punishment or try to shame your child into not using it. This can adversely affect your child’s development – and your bond – by creating fear, stress, and distrust, which can lead to regression. It also won’t help them to want the pacifier less.
Although it may be tough at times, weaning from the pacifier is a journey of learning, compromise, and patience for you both. As long as you approach each situation with love and validate your little one’s big feelings – which they may not always understand how to express – then this can be an experience that helps you and your baby bond even closer.