How and When To Get Rid of the Pacifier

How and When To Get Rid of the Pacifier

Let me start over by saying that I am, by no means, anti-pacifier!

As a mom, I had two very different experiences: Gabriele, my eldest, has always appreciated his dummy and I must admit that I have been saved from major baby meltdowns just by offering it to him ; Bianca, my youngest, has never wanted anything to do with the pacifier and, while I was happy to not have to deal with removing it later on, it would have definitely helped with giving my breasts a little break every once in a while!

Pacifiers are so helpful in a variety of situations: maybe your baby has missed their sleep window by a little bit and were getting a bit cranky, maybe they fell and hurt themselves, and just before they go into a full tantrum, in goes the magic pacifier and, suddenly, it is like as if nothing had ever happened.

It is also worth knowing that the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends the use of a pacifier during the first year of life as it can reduce the risk of SIDS. So given that very important consideration, you will want to make sure you have carefully considered the pros and cons of taking away the pacifier before you make a decision in case your baby has not turned one yet.

When it comes to sleep, the use of a pacifier negatively affects a good sleep hygiene as it represents a sleep prop (i.e., something babies rely on to fall asleep and go back to sleep when they wake up during the night or in the middle of a nap). In most cases, if a baby is accustomed to falling asleep with a pacifier in, they will almost certainly wake up during the night after it has fallen out, and will protest until mom or dad gets up, finds it, and pops it back in their mouth.

Sleep, for babies and adults alike, is structured in cycles. Night sleep, therefore, consists in a series of cycles that follow one another and during which we go from light sleep to deep sleep and then back again. For adults, a full cycle typically takes somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. For a baby, it’s closer to 50.

If your baby goes to sleep at bedtime with a pacifier in their mouth, then they are more likely to fully wake up during a light stage of sleep and may find it difficult to go back to sleep because, “Hey! Where’s my pacifier? I can’t get to sleep without it!” And if they cannot find it on their own, or they haven’t figured out how to put it back in their mouth yet, they are going to get upset and start crying for someone to come and rectify the situation.

If this is what is happening with your baby, then you’re probably going to want to consider getting rid of that pacifier and I’ve got a few tips to help you get through the process as quickly and peacefully as possible.

I know parents usually prefer to gradually approach any changes involving their kids, but when it comes to breaking bad habits going “cold turkey” is usually the best option. Toddlers, especially, do better with absolutes than they do with moderation and can often adjust to new situations quickly and easily so long as things are clear and consistent. Therefore, my advice to parents is to just pick a day to make the change, explain it to your little one, and then make sure all pacifiers disappear from the house. Don’t save one for emergencies or just-in-case scenarios, because it will be too easy for you to fall back on the pacifier habit to find a quick solution if your baby is throwing a tantrum, having trouble sleeping or just crying. Remember: by going back and offering the pacifier, you would just be causing confusion and it would be way harder for your kid to get rid of it the second time around.

I am pretty sure that what I am about to say will cause an uproar, but I want to give you food for thought regarding prolonged pacifier use. Even if, as a sleep consultant, I do not adopt any cry-it-out methods, I hear a lot of baseless criticism around those approaches saying that it is unhealthy for babies to be left to cry to fall asleep. Well, have you ever thought about the fact that systematically offering a pacifier to avoid tantrums or to soothe a crying baby might be considered as a way of “silencing” their protests?

With this, I am in no way suggesting that a pacifier can be bad for your baby especially during their first year of life, but I simply want to help you accept any reactions and expressions involving crying without resorting exclusively to the pacifier as the only way of comforting your child.  

The good news is that toddlers typically embrace the idea of growing into “big kids,” so marking it as a milestone can be of huge help. Just make sure to present the change as very exciting and as a positive occasion!

A parenting trick that usually works wonders with kids this age is the introduction of a “Pacifier Fairy”. You can simply tell your toddler that the Fairy is coming to collect pacifiers to give them to newborn babies who need them and, in exchange, is going to leave a special surprise to compliment them for being so big and brave!

As soon as your little one will have fully grasped what is going on, we can expect them to get a little irritable and to protest because they – of course – miss their pacifier. It is nothing to be concerned about, as this is a totally normal pushback whenever breaking a habit!

When that pushback hits, my advice is to distract your toddler by offering some water or any treats they particularly like, let them watch their favorite cartoons for a while, and – whenever they start to fuss about the pacifier – quickly turn their attention to something else (just put on some music and start dancing with them!).

Acknowledge their frustration, offer as much comfort and support as needed, but don’t give in. Giving them a pacifier at this stage is only going to reinforce the idea that crying, or fussing, is an effective tool for getting what they want which is not always what they need!

One quick side note here: I’ve seen a lot of situations where parents with a toddler and a newborn or younger sibling in the house will “hand me down” older kid’s pacifiers to the younger one. This is not recommended as the already used pacifiers might be damaged and could make your toddler resent their sibling for stealing them! If you’re able to, just get rid of your toddler’s pacifiers and get different ones for the younger child.

Give your toddler a little time to get used to the new reality, and within a few nights, they will be able to enjoy the benefits of those glorious, sleep-filled nights. This way, they will also be able to better cope with any frustrations even without a pacifier!


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