Pacifiers: How and When to Break the Habit

Pacifiers are not necessary, but can be helpful—they reduce the risk of SIDS until 6 months of age and can give even a nursing mother a break every now and then. However, if used too long, they can lead to tooth deformity, speech delay, encourage cavity formation, contribute to inner ear infections, and harbor thrush.

The best time to wean a child off the pacifier is between 6-12 months, with the goal of no more artificial nipples (bottle and pacifier) by 1 year old. When pacifier use is prolonged, the weaning process gets much, much harder. Better to complete it before your child can walk and talk!

Here are some methods that families have found helpful. Some are more applicable to an older child who still uses the pacifier for sleep.

1. Cold Turkey. This is a popular and effective method, but difficult emotionally as there will likely be tears and tantrums. If you live in an apartment or townhouse, warn the neighbors. People have had the police or CPS stop by to investigate! However, if you stick to it, the process will be over in a matter of a few days. Make sure that all family members and caregivers are on board. Pick a date, circle it on the calendar, and after that date, no pacifiers in the house. No secret backup pacifier. No grandma-to-the-rescue. Throw them out in a dumpster somewhere so you are not digging through your kitchen trash in desperation in hour three.

2. Cut a hole in the tip of the pacifier. Cut more off every few days. The child will be unable to get the same amount of suction and will usually discard the pacifier himself.

3. Have a ceremony in which the child leaves the pacifier under the pillow for the “Binky Fairy” who will give it to babies who need it more and leave a small toy in its place, maybe with a glittery note of thanks.

4. Tour a local fire station “in exchange” for turning in the pacifier to the firefighters, who will “make sure” it gets to babies who need it. Plan this a week in advance so you can call and make an appointment for the station tour.

5. Participate in a Build-A-Bear workshop and tuck the pacifier inside so your child can have it nearby but not in her mouth.

6. Replace the pacifier with another comfort object, like a small stuffed animal that can fit in a pocket.

7. Gradually decrease the times of day and places where the pacifier is used: first in the house only, then naps and bedtime, then bedtime, then done.

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