Pacifiers are one of those things that are either a parent’s best friend or viewed as a great big no-no. So what gives? Is a pacifier a good thing or a bad thing? And how do you know when to wean baby from his pacifier?
Babies tend to either love their pacifier or completely refuse one; there seems to be no middle ground. This fondness (or not) also seems to be something they decide on their own. I’ve seen very few (if any) babies who can be coerced into taking a pacifier. But if you have a baby who loves it, don’t worry. Pacifiers aren’t bad.
However, there comes a time when your child really has to be weaned off his pacifier. But it’s not that easy once he becomes too attached. So when to wean off the pacifier, and how to do it without much resistance from your baby is something that parents should learn about.
The Pros and Cons of Using a Pacifier
Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to soothe a fussy baby, there is evidence to show that babies who sleep with pacifiers are less apt to stop breathing while they sleep; possibly saving them from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The sucking motions help keep their nasal passages and mouth open which enables them to keep breathing. Pacifiers are also more orthodontia-friendly than sucking on their fingers or other objects. It’s also more hygienic, granted you are cleaning the baby’s pacifier properly and regularly.
Risks and pitfalls
While no one disputes the value of a baby being able to self-soothe, some babies may sleep less soundly if they go to sleep with a pacifier. The reason? Losing it in their sleep may cause them to wake up.
Paediatricians also recommend not giving a pacifier to breastfed babies for the first month to avoid the possible problem of nipple confusion and the baby satisfying their need to suck and problems with latching on – resulting in poor nursing and reduced milk supply for the mum.
Moreover, prolonged use of the pacifier can also make the child more susceptible to infections (especially if the pacifier is not clean), especially middle ear infections and it might also lead to dental problems in the future.
However, probably one of the biggest drawbacks for parents is when their children develop an attachment or dependence on their pacifier that it will be a struggle to wean them off it.
So the decision of whether to let your baby use a pacifier or not depends on you … and the baby. Because first things first, if your baby is not interested in the pacifier, better not force it. It will save you the hassle of weaning him off it later on.
Image source: iStock
How to choose a pacifier for baby
If you decide to give pacifiers a try, you have to know which pacifier is best for your baby. But there are so many out there. How is a mum to know which is really the best one to buy, right?
Experts agree that nursing babies are better off with a pacifier that doesn’t have an angled nipple. Using a straight nipple will help save the confusion of knowing how to latch on to the breast vs. the pacifier and vice-versa.
NOTE: These same experts also encourage breastfeeding mums to use a pacifier as little as possible during the first couple of months to assure that the baby is already nursing efficiently and adequately.
It is also advisable to select a pacifier sized for your baby. The nipples on newborn pacifiers are smaller than those for older infants. Buy accordingly.
Buy two or three different styles or brands of pacifiers. If the first one you offer your baby doesn’t seem to satisfy, you can try another. Finding the right one may take a while, but having just the right pacifier to soothe your baby is definitely worth the “trouble.”
Pacifier safety tips
Once you found a good, quality pacifier for your child, make sure to keep it that way. Check for wear and tear and replace it as soon as you spot signs of deterioration. Also, be cautious around pacifier clips. Don’t make the straps too long that it can get caught around your baby’s neck.
It is recommended that pacifiers be sterilised until your child’s immune system matures, at around 6 months. After that, you can simply wash them with soap and running water. Resist the urge to “rinse” the pacifier using your own saliva as you may just spread germs and bacteria to your bub. Avoid putting sweet substances on your baby’s pacifier as well.
Remember, to prevent your baby from being too dependent on your pacifier, do not use it as the first line of defence. Try other soothing methods when your baby is fussy. And only offer the pacifier after feeding.
Bye-Bye Pacifier – When Is the Right Time
Even more difficult than deciding to use a pacifier and which pacifier to use is the question of when to wean your little one from their pacifier.
The truth is it’s not as clear-cut. You need to consider your child’s ability to self-soothe (which is past 12 months), but ideally, before they develop an unhealthy attachment to it (which some experts believes is after the child’s 9th month).
The ‘right’ age depends on who you ask, but the overwhelming majority of mums choose 2 as the magic age of ‘pacifier weaning’. This stems from several reasons including the social stigma that is often associated with using a pacifier past age 2 and the fact that their teeth and jaws are ‘settling in’ at this point.
Other mums insist that the right age to wean is before your baby’s first birthday when the switch is usually made from the bottle or breast to a cup. Their argument for this is that at this point, the sucking reflex (or need to suck) is gone.
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), thinks that non-nutritive sucking is normal for babies and young children, so they recommend weaning from the pacifier by age 3.
So, when to wean the baby from his pacifier? Considering these recommendations from experts and your child’s physical and emotional readiness, we’ll say that stopping pacifier use between 2 to 4 years is a good time frame.
How to Wean Baby off the Pacifier
How to get rid of a pacifier isn’t a question with one definitive answer. Like which pacifier to use and when to take it away, the answer to how is up to you.
Some parents do it the hard way – going cold turkey. The downside here though is you have to also prepare yourself for crying fits, especially if your child is not emotionally ready to wean from his pacifier.
Meanwhile, some prefer to wait for their babies to self-wean. Between about 6 months and 3 years, your child is busy with developmental leaps, and taking away their self-soothing method can also pose a challenge.
Whether you want to go the quick route or break the habit gently is up to you, but here are a few things you can try:
Again, avoid making the pacifier the first line of defence.
Don’t keep it within your baby’s sight at times when he doesn’t really need to suck. When he is fussy, try offering some other form of stimulation like a mobile, rattle, or swinging chair. If your baby is teething, offer a teething ring or a cold washcloth instead.
When to stop using the pacifier for sleep?
You can try breaking this habit at 12 months, when the risk for SIDS is already low. You can replace it by incorporating a comforting bedtime routine like giving baby his favourite toy or blanket, or telling him a bedtime story until he feels sleepy.
Talk your baby out of it.
Here’s a less traumatizing way to go about the quick route. Prepare your bub by saying that in 3 days, you will be getting rid of the pacifier because he’s already old enough to manage not having one. Then on the third day, stick to your word and remove all the pacifiers at home. Then find a good distraction for your baby.
You’ve probably heard of the tooth fairy. Well, how about the paci fairy? Have your toddler place their pacifier under their pillow for the ‘paci-fairy’ to take; leaving a small gift in its place. You can also tell fairy tales about a bunny who said goodbye to his binky but had a magic plushie (or blanket) that made him feel happy every time he hugged it.
Offer appealing alternatives.
Break it to him gently by giving him choices. For instance, you can limit pacifier use to certain places. It can go something like, “If you want your pacifier, it’s in your room. Or, you can keep playing out here with me without it,” or “I’m going to the park. The pacifier stays here at home. You can go to the park with me, but the pacifier needs to stay here.”
Gossip to your child’s toys about how he went all morning without the pacifier. Tell your child how proud you are of him for breaking the habit.
Whichever method you choose, once you’ve made the decision to stop giving the pacifier, stand firm. Brace yourself for tantrums and lots of crying, but also be prepared to show empathy and give comfort to your child. And when the weaning gets tough, don’t forget to show yourself some empathy as well and give yourself a pat on the back.
How long your baby’s pacifier journey will be up to you, but remember that it will all be over soon. Besides, nobody goes to college with a pacifier in his mouth.
Updates by Camille Eusebio
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