Pacifiers -- The Slippery Slope

Ah yes, the pacifider, soother, dummy, binky, "ciucio" in Italian (pronounced choo-cho) and my favorite term!

When parents first use the pacifier, I think many can't help but feel just a little bit guilty.  They never wanted to have to use it, but they had to concede.  However, when baby is screaming in the backseat, in a restaurant, on an airplane, in the grocery store parents will do just about anything to calm baby down!

And guess what?  A lot of times, it works pretty darn well. Sucking is something that calms almost any baby when they are feeling fussy -- and the ability to suck is inherent.  However, they can feel comforted sucking on anything that is put in their mouth like a bottle, the breast, fingers, etc.  For parents with more "spirited" babies, a pacifier can be a helpful tool.

However, it's only meant to be a temporary thing.  Experts agree that up until one year old a pacifier is fine.  As kids get older, they should have the ability to self soothe themselves and shouldn't need something to suck on.  Consider these points, and getting rid of your child's soother sooner rather than later:

1) Sleep: for many babies, the pacifier can become an external sleep prop.  If baby falls asleep with the soother they learn that is the only way that they can fall asleep.  When the pacifier falls out of their mouth and if they don't have the manual competence to put it back in, guess who they're calling?  Also, having to look for the pacifier in bed, putting it back can interrupt sleep and affect sleep consolidation at night.  If your child does not have good quality sleep, that can make cranky and irritated the next day. 

2) Dental problems: long-term use of a pacifier can affect structure of the mouth and teeth, namely create over- or underbites once your child has started losing their baby teeth.

3) Ear infections: these are awful!  Now, there are more studies coming out saying that babies who use pacifiers frequently are actually three times more likely to have frequent ear infections.

4) Speech: working with special needs kids, I have had the pacifier talk with many families whose kids are far too old to be using it.  At one year old, babies are starting to say their very first words, and for months before that they have been babbling their heads off.  Babies who have soothers in their mouths a lot are less likely to try talking and using their language.

Also, I teach parents that one of the most important components of language is the ability to regulate your breathing.  It's not very easy to try and do this while you have something in your mouth.  Pacifiers can be a big problem when it comes to the development of speech, not to mention affect the development of the tongue and lips.

So, how do you get your child to ditch the dummy?

Some parents get lucky and as their children get older, they start using the pacifier less and less as they learn their own coping skills.  Others, not so much.  Do you know how many young children I've seen with a pacifier in their mouths all day?  The oldest was 6 years old!  The longer the dependency goes, they harder it's going to be to get rid of it.

However, give it three days.  Start by telling your child that the pacifier can only be used when you are in the house.  When going out, remind your child that you'll leave it behind for a time, but can come back to it later.  Next day, the soother can only be used during a certain time of the day, in the house for example, during your child's "quiet time" or TV time.  By the third day, it's time for your child to graduate from needing the pacifier.  From that point forward, you have to be consistent and stick with it!

Yes, there will be some resistance and tears as you are changing something that your little one has become habituated to.  However, if you are consistent (and don't give in to tantrums) the transition will be a successful one!