Parting with the pacifier

. October 18, 2012.

Ready to help your child give up a pacifier? Here are some tips for navigating this tricky transition.

Whether they’re crystal clear, neon-bright, or covered in rhinestones, pacifiers are the modern baby’s accessory of choice. Thanks to studies showing pacifiers reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), most pediatricians have given pacifiers the green light. One study found a whopping 68 percent of parents give them to their babies before six weeks of age.

Babies aren’t the only ones who love them; parents quickly become addicted to the pacifier’s soothing effects on their offspring. Unfortunately, it often becomes a habit which overstays its welcome.

Why wean

While some children give up non-nutritive or comfort sucking on their own, others cling to the habit well into the preschool years. According to Lotus Su, D.D.S., of Pediatric Dental Associates, using a pacifier too often or for too long can contribute to dental problems, including deformation of the palate, shifting of the teeth, as well as mouth breathing and dry mouth, which may increase susceptibility to tooth decay.

Many doctors and dentists don’t have a problem with pacifier use in babies and toddlers, but they usually recommend ending the habit before permanent front teeth begin to emerge, which can happen before kindergarten. “I recommend stopping pacifier use by age three,” says Dr. Su. “The earlier a pacifier habit stops, the less likely there will be dental problems.”

Potential problems extend beyond the teeth. Pacifier use is associated with otitis media, or middle ear infections. Minor health upsets like gastrointestinal infections and oral thrush are also more commonly seen in pacifier users.

Parents may be swayed by medical data and dentists’ recommendations, but kids often need coaxing to give up the long-held habit. Guilt-inducing lectures about dental problems or germs may be counterproductive, causing them to dig in their heels. Instead, help them become confidently pacifier-free with these tactics.

Pacifier bear

When three-year-old Violet was ready to give up her pacifier, mom Bec Marcher took her to a popular build-your-own-stuffed-animal store. Violet deposited her last pacifier safely inside the teddy bear before it was sewn
up. The bear now serves as both a cuddly friend and a unique reminder of Violet’s younger days.

The paci fairy

Steal this idea from Supernanny Jo Frost: have your child place his pacifiers in a large envelope to mail to the “pacifier fairy.” Put the envelope in the mailbox together before bed. Once he’s asleep, swap the envelope for a new toy. When he wakes up, excitedly take him to the mailbox to find his new treasures.

Make the cut

Snipping a small hole in a pacifier can help it lose its appeal quickly, encouraging a child to give it up on his own. Be sure to dispose of a broken pacifier promptly, because it can harbor bacteria or become a choking hazard if a child continues to use it.

Out of sight, out of mind

Parents seeking the quickest route to pacifier-freedom can simply throw them all away. Kelly Stallings opted for the cold-turkey approach with daughter Taylor. “The first night was rough, but after that, she didn’t care,” she says. Just make sure to get rid of each and every one, so your child isn’t tempted to relapse (and you’re not tempted to cave.)

No matter how stubbornly your child clings to a beloved binky, eventually it will be a thing of the past. Once he’s confidently pacifier-free, you’re free as well—from relentlessly searching for them, washing them and buying them. Enjoy your well-earned liberation. At least, until the next must-have item comes along.

Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer and mom to a former binky addict.