There’s a lot to love about pacifiers. They help quiet and comfort a fussy baby in a matter of seconds; even better, they reduce her risk of suffering from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS.) But that love can turn to dread when it’s time to wean your child off her pacifier, since many kids aren’t about to give it up without a fight.
The good news is that there are ways to make the process less painful, beginning with the timing. “The earlier you start weaning, the better,” suggests Rebecca Dixon, M.D., a pediatrician at Indiana University Health. “Otherwise, the habit becomes more ingrained and you’ll have a harder time taking the pacifier away.” Experts recommend weaning your child from his pacifier when he’s a year old, at which point it offers little benefit. “The protection pacifiers provide from SIDS wanes over time, and it lowers significantly between six to eight months of age,” Dr. Dixon explains.
Waiting to pull the plug until the toddler years could harm your child’s health and development. The American Dental Association advises parents discourage pacifier use after age 4 because it may interfere with the proper growth of a child’s mouth and the alignment of her teeth. Pacifiers may also increase her risk of getting sick. “Kids who are old enough to move around often drop their pacifier and put it back in their mouth, which provides an easy way for germs to enter the body,” Dr. Dixon explains. It can also hinder speech. “If your child is using her pacifier during the day, she may not talk as much because the pacifier is in the way,” she says.
To begin the weaning process, Dr. Dixon says it’s best to first introduce a transitional comfort object such as a blanket or stuffed animal that your child can turn to for comfort instead of his pacifier. After that, there are a few different strategies to choose from. “If you prefer a gradual process, tell your child that he can only use his pacifier during naps and at night,” Dr. Dixon says. Once he’s had a few weeks to adjust, you can keep limiting the time until you’ve phased out the pacifier completely. Or you can gradually snip away at the tip with scissors. “This makes the pacifier harder and less satisfying for kids to suck on, so they eventually lose interest,” Dr. Dixon explains.
Going cold turkey does work for some kids, but it helps to offer a reward for quitting. Dr. Dixon used the “pacifier fairy” approach with her own kids: “We gathered up all the pacifiers in the house, put them in a box addressed to the pacifier fairy, and the next day the box had disappeared and there were stickers and fun kid toothbrushes and toothpaste in its place,” she says.
Whatever technique you use, Dr. Dixon stresses the importance of not giving in when your child screams for her pacifier. “You have to stick to your guns, otherwise it just drags out the process,” she says.