How to wean your baby from their beloved pacifier.
The pacifier goes by a variety of names, such as binky, comfy or soothy. It has been a time-tested parenting prop to ease babies through fussy spells. When to use it and when to discard it are common concerns of parents.
Some babies are born with an intense need to suck and are calmed by the pacifier. Additionally, saliva is a natural dental antiseptic that is good for oral hygiene as well as intestinal development. Some insatiable children, even after finishing nursing, need to suck longer. Try using a clean finger as a pacifier to provide a more natural skin-to-skin feel. You can manipulate your finger properly into your baby’s mouth to stimulate sucking. If they won’t accept finger sucking, a pacifier may keep the peace.
When to break from the binky
Don’t worry that pacifiers are causing any psychological problem — because they don’t. Pacifiers are just peacemakers. This does not imply a psychological problem or a need unfulfilled by parents. The ability to self-comfort is a psychological bonus. For most infants, pacifier use is a harmless habit.
How do you know when you’re overdoing the pacifier? When your baby cries and you find yourself, by reflex, reaching for the pacifier instead of reaching for your baby, it’s time to let go of the pacifier. If your baby is reaching for the pacifier instead of reaching for a parent, it’s time to let it go. We also know that sucking on a pacifier exerts a lot of pressure, which, if continued well into toddlerhood, can lead to overbite and other dental malalignments.
Baby has frequent ear infections
A study conducted in Finland found that infants who used pacifiers frequently suffered more ear infections. When parents were advised to limit the pacifier use, the incidence of ear infections diminished. While this is strictly a statistical correlation, a possible reason is that continuously sucking on a pacifier disturbs the normal functioning of the eustachian tube, allowing fluid to build up in the middle ear.
How to bump the binky
Yes, there reaches a time to get rid of the pacifier, but try convincing millions of babies who are hooked on it to give it up. If your baby has any of the above whens, here are some hows:
Substitute and distract
Besides being a human pacifier for a while, give your baby other attachment objects or comforting tools, like a cuddly doll or teddy bear. When your baby is upset or anxious, distract them into a fun play activity.
Here is the most effective binky-breaking trick that we’ve used in our practice. Take your child to the toy store and let them pick out a toy to “trade” for the pacifier. Not a bad deal, the pacifier stays in the waste basket in the store, and the child leaves with a new toy.
Make the pacifier less convenient to find. When your toddler starts foraging around the house looking for their rubber friend, distract them into fun activities to get their mind off the paci. Then, announce the pacifier is “lost” while you introduce some novel cuddly toys and spend more cuddle time with your child. Or, simply have the “Binky Fairy” visit one night and take away the pacifier and leave a more attractive gift.
Enlist peer pressure
Put your child in a group with non-pacifier-using playmates. For the child who’s really attached, throw a paci party and have everyone clap as the child throws the pacifier in the trash can.
If your toddler is truly hooked on the pacifier, gradually shorten the frequency and length of time that they are plugged in. Let them use the pacifier for short periods of time when you feel they really need it as you gradually introduce more comforting alternatives. Remember, weaning from the pacifier, just like weaning from the breast, does not mean stopping cold turkey. Rather, it is a change from one relationship to another. No matter what techniques you use to break from the paci, you have to simultaneously increase attachment objects.
Bill Sears, M.D., is a father of eight and the author of 42 books on family health, including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. A practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, he is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP)