THE PACIFIER DILEMMA: WHEN SHOULD BABIES STOP USING PACIFIERS
New parents have a lot on their plate. I know from experience that there are days when just keeping everyone alive and getting to bed on time feels like an enormous success.
Once you’ve figured out how to get your child sleeping on their own and their sleeping all night the last thing you want to do is disrupt the schedule. Because changes seem daunting, it feels easier to wait before addressing important training or developmental steps.
However, the truth is that it can be better to tackle some of those anxiety-inducing challenges sooner rather than later. There are many reasons beyond the mere convenience to put a strict date on when to stop pacifier usage.
Maybe you know the benefits, you’re ready to get started, but you’re still wondering: when should babies stop using pacifiers?
We’ll walk you through a helpful timeline for when to stop pacifier dependence and make the switch to self-soothing measures, including some of the top methods for weaning with as little fuss as possible.
When Should You Take Away the Pacifier?
When you’re developing a plan of attack for taking away the pacifier you should keep two important timelines in mind. First, medical experts typically recommend starting the weaning process around 6 months. From a few weeks old until 6 months you might be relying on the pacifier to help your baby sleep and soothe when they aren’t nursing or being held.
6 months might sound like a long time, but you don’t want to wait long. Physical dependency on a pacifier only gets worse as your child gets older.
The second milestone occurs around 9 months, and it’s when children begin to develop an emotional attachment to their pacifier in addition to the physical dependency. Beyond emotional dependency, studies show that waiting to stop pacifier usage affects girls and boys differently, and the effects can be more long lasting and serious than previously thought.
I get it. You want a clear answer to when babies should stop using pacifiers. Here’s what most experts advise: aim to stop pacifier dependency starting around 6-9 months of age. If you plan ahead for when and how you’ll stop pacifier usage you’ll be much better prepared to quickly make the change.
How Stopping the Pacifier Will Help You and Your Child
If the thought of taking away the pacifier still seems too daunting to pencil on the calendar, I understand. There’s no way around the fact that you’ll have to face a few difficult naps and a couple of nights where your baby doesn’t go down quite as easily.
But, don’t worry too much. Let’s focus on the positive!
Aside from it generally being easier to stop using a pacifier when your baby is still young, there are some significant advantages to consider. For example, if you’re able to manage the weaning process when your baby is only 6 or 7 months old then your battles will likely be much shorter and less severe than waiting until your child is older.
What if you wait “too long?” What problems could you expect?
The downsides to waiting vary, but a few things to watch out for include:
- Severe emotional and physical attachment to the point that your child is hard to calm down without one.
- In some cases, especially when dependency lasts until several years old, pacifiers can cause dental and orthodontic issues (e.g., malocclusion and misalignment).
- Research has repeatedly shown that pacifier usage can be linked to repeated ear infections.
- Some medical publications have speculated that pacifier usage can be linked to increased risk of SIDS.
Overall, your baby will become better at self soothing and calming themselves down through a variety of techniques if you work to address pacifier usage early on.
Methods to Make Weaning Easier
Once you’ve made the decision to stop using a pacifier, it’s time to create a plan and select a few tried and true methods for making the weaning process easier.
Before you simply take away the pacifier and hope for the best, remember that like all forms of teaching and training at a young age, getting your toddler to stop using a pacifier will take time and patience. Even if you follow each step carefully, it’s impossible to know exactly how your toddler will react. It’s also hard to know what their preferred substitute comfort mechanism will be.
Here are a few tips from parents that have successfully gotten their children to stop using a pacifier:
- Start slowly. Try taking away the pacifier for only one nap at a time before removing it at bedtime or completely revoking access. Your child likely won’t fully understand why it’s being taken away, and you don’t want it to feel like a punishment.
- Spend a little extra time helping your child fall asleep. This could mean holding them and rocking quietly for a few extra minutes, or reading books in dim lighting to signal to their body that it’s time to sleep.
- If your child is a little bit older, start explaining to them for a couple of days that they are getting old enough to not use a pacifier anymore. If they have a favorite storybook character, try getting their imagination involved.
- Try to avoid replacing the pacifier with thumb sucking, though this can be hard to prevent completely.
- Keep your other habits consistent; don’t change bedtime routines.
While we’ve focused on some of the hardest parts and most substantial challenges associated with stopping pacifier usage, it’s worth noting that some kids stop all on their own at an early age. You may never need to answer when babies should stop using pacifiers.
In fact, my daughter completely lost interest in her pacifier around 9 months old. My son, however, needed some extra encouragement around 12 months and we had a few hard nap times. In both situations, my wife and I put together a simple plan and agreed to take it slow and celebrate the small wins.
Hopefully you and your family can do the same!