The Deal with Pacifiers

Pacifiers, this small little nipple thing, can spark so many emotions!! Who knew it could be so polarizing! So, let’s clear the air, shall we?


Pacifiers are great for Newborns!


Pacifiers for newborns are fantastic. Newborns have an innate instinct to suck, not just for eating, but as a reflex. It is part of their self soothing strategies. We call this “non-nutritive sucking” or, more commonly known as “comfort sucking.” You can tell when a newborn is seeking this comfort sucking when the sucking motion is in faster, shorter bursts versus the long slower draws like when they are actively eating.


And don’t forget, that not all pacifiers are the same – try a few different kinds to see if your baby likes one more than the other. And, perhaps your baby isn’t a pacifier baby, that is ok too! (I had one of each, E loved the pacifier for soothing, but V refused it).


If you want to know when the optimal times to offer your newborn a pacifier is, check out this post that explains when to offer your newborn a pacifier.


Why you should offer your newborn baby a pacifier


The AAP found that pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS, possibly due to the fact that baby has a harder time burying their face into soft bedding if they have a pacifier sticking out of their mouth. But also that the sucking motion helps keep their breathing regulated. While the exact explanation of SIDS hasn’t been discovered yet, pacifiers have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS in infants under a year old. The AAP has gone as far as making the formal recommendation that babies 0 - 6 months should be offered a pacifier (not forced to have) and that babies should be weaned from the pacifier by 12 months.

Ok, so hopefully you understand that pacifiers for newborns are awesome and do have some amazing pro’s to it.


When to drop the pacifier


At/by 6 months. Ideally, at 4 months but who am I to go against the AAP (I can’t and won’t)?


Using a pacifier is of course a parental decision and you are welcome to drop the pacifier when you see fit, even if that is before 4/6 months. If your kiddo doesn't seem to be interested in them, GREAT! Def don't try to force a habit you'll eventually have to break!


Here’s why: pacifiers can become a problem when it comes to sleep. If baby is used to falling asleep with a pacifier, they almost always end up waking up in the night after it’s fallen out, and they kick up a fuss until mom gets up, finds it, and pops it back in their mouth. Sound familiar?


Sleep Science


Sleep, for babies and adults alike, comes in cycles. Many of us are under the assumption that we fall asleep at the start of the night, go into a deeper sleep as the night goes on, then gradually come out of it as the morning rolls around.


It’s true that we go from light sleep to deep sleep and then back again, but it happens several times a night, depending on how long you sleep for. For adults, a full cycle typically takes somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. For a baby, it’s closer to 45.[1]


The Problem


If your baby won’t go to sleep at bedtime without a pacifier in their mouth, then there’s a distinct possibility that they’re reliant on that pacifier to get to sleep. When they get to the end of a sleep cycle, roughly every 45 -60 minutes or so, they get into that very light stage of sleep and might actually wake up, at which point, they’re still tired, but they might have trouble getting back to sleep because, “Hey! Where’s the pacifier? I can’t get to sleep without my pacifier!”

And if they can’t find it, or they haven’t figured out how to put it in on their own yet, they’re going to get upset because they can’t get back to sleep, and they’re going to start crying for someone to come and rectify the situation.


Has anyone else tried the “fill the crib” strategy? Bueller…Bueller….yeah, I know I am not the only one and I know I’m not the only one where this “strategy” failed miserably. Young babies just don’t have the mobility nor the awareness to be able to do this yet. Makes sense.


And that, right there, is the definition of what we in the sleep consulting field call a “sleep prop.” Sometimes it’s feeding, sometimes it’s rocking, sometimes it’s some crazy combination of a bunch of things, but essentially it’s something that baby relies on in order to get to sleep that they can’t provide on their own when they wake up in the night.


Eureka!


More than anything, that’s the secret to sleeping through the night. Getting rid of sleep props is, hands down, the most important component to getting your little one sleeping peacefully from the time you put them to bed until they wake up, happy and refreshed, in the morning.


So if you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s IT! That’s exactly what’s happening with my baby!” then you’re probably going to want to take some steps to get rid of that pacifier, and I’ve got a few tips to get you through the process as quickly and peacefully as possible.


How to ditch the pacifier – Option 1: Cold Turkey


Let's break this down by age:


4-18 months: Cold Turkey. At this age, you are way more in control of the situation and there just isn't much kids at this age can do about it! I mean, yes, there may be tears, but you would just rely on your sleep training method to get you through it.


18 months +: Cold Turkey. BUT, I’d add that some tabies (yes, that's older babies who are not yet toddlers but older than babies....Tabies...) and toddlers need a little more lead up, so talk to your child about the change for like a day, maybe two, and then be done. Be consistent. Don’t give in or fall back, this will just confuse them. Toddlers do better with absolutes than they do with moderation so to just pick a day to make the change, explain it to your little one, and then toss all the pacifiers into the trash.


All children can often adjust to new situations remarkably easily so long as things are clear and consistent, so 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 to get a quick solution if your baby is having trouble sleeping, and then you’re just causing confusion.


How to ditch the pacifier – Option 2: Pacifier Fairy (18 months +)


Toddlers typically embrace the idea of growing into “big kids,” so marking it as a milestone can be a big help. Make sure to present the change as a very exciting and positive occasion. I love linking big transitions to literature (still a teacher at heart!!) and love these books found on Amazon (1, 2, 3, 4) and Elmo has an episode about saying goodbye to the pacifier too (episode, song).

And if your kiddo likes magic, you could round this off with the introduction of a “Pacifier Fairy" by telling your toddler that the Pacifier Fairy is coming to collect all of their dummies and, in exchange, is going to leave them a special surprise. Like the Tooth Fairy, gather all the pacifiers into a little bag, hang them on the door, have you child say good bye, and that’s it! Whether that’s something that your little one will embrace, I leave up to your discretion.


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 give the older baby’s pacifiers to the younger one. On its face, this seems like a good idea, but it can breed some resentment from your toddler when they see their younger sibling sucking on their pacifier. If you’re able to, get rid of your toddler’s pacifiers and get different ones for the younger child.


What to expect from your toddler


So, you’ve laid the groundwork, your little one has grasped what’s going on, and the house is now pacifier-free. Now you’re going to want to brace yourself, because in about 99% of all cases, your toddler’s going to go a little bit nutty while they adjust to the new reality. It’s nothing to be concerned about, we all get a little irritable when we’re breaking a habit, but I just want you to be aware that it’s almost never a seamless transition. There’s going to be some pushback.


When that pushback hits, and your toddler starts to lose it a little, my advice is distract, distract, distract! Keep some of their favorite treats on standby, have the iPad cartoons at the ready, and when they start to fuss about the lack of a pacifier, quickly turn their attention to something else.


You can acknowledge their frustration, offer them as much comfort and support as they need, but don’t apologize or give in. Remember that you’re the authority figure here and if you’ve decided that the pacifier is a thing of the past, that’s the way it is. Giving them a pacifier at this stage is only going to reinforce the idea that crying or fussing is an effective tool for getting their way.

Every toddler is obviously a unique individual, so use these guidelines in conjunction with your intuition, and within a few nights, maybe a week at the outside, your little one should be Binky-free, and your whole family should be enjoying the benefits of those glorious, sleep-filled nights.



Conclusion


So when you get down to it, pacifiers can be a great thing. They can also be the root of sleep evil. Pacifiers are a parental decision and it is up to you how and when you offer or wean your child from the pacifier.


If your child is relying on the pacifier to fall asleep (and is older than 4 months), I’d encourage you to take a hard look at what YOU need: do you need your baby to stop crying for a few minutes with the pacifier and continue to replace it every hour or so over night OR do you want to pull it and teach your kiddo healthy sleep skills without it?


When you are ready for the latter and need support, give me a shout!! Let’s work on it together and you all can be sleeping so much better within 2 weeks!

[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/baby-sleep/baby-sleep-cycle

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