For a lot of parents (myself included!) pacifiers are a non-negotiable item when it comes to baby-rearing. My son had severe colic and while the majority of the time nothing (including a pacifier) would well, pacify him (no pun intended!), once he got past the colicky stage, a pacifier became one of our best friends.
Having said that, I, along with many other parents I know, wondered if it’s really OK to use a pacifier when my son was crying. Is using a pacifier safe? Does it REALLY help? Will my child still be addicted to using his pacifier when he’s 5 years old? (Hint – no.)
The good news is, most experts agree that using a pacifier is safe and effective as long as you follow simple safety rules and wean your child off them at an appropriate age.
In fact, pacifiers appeal to a baby’s natural urge to suck as a way to get nourishment and soothe themselves.
Find more answers to common questions about pacifiers in this parent’s guide. You’ll learn how to use them safely and how to break the habit when your child no longer needs them.
How to Safely Use Pacifiers
Today’s pacifiers come in the traditional version and a wide variety of cute designs. The important thing is to ensure that they’re safe for your baby.
Follow these guidelines to avoid common hazards:
Make it Sturdy
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one-piece pacifier designs that will hold together with ventilation holes to let air in. We loved these BIPS BPA-Free Natural Rubber Pacifiers.
They’re 100% free from BPA, PVA and Pthlates, have a safe, one-piece design and include ventilation holes (an added bonus is I love the classic, “retro” look of them.) You can buy them here.
You can also reduce the risk of accidents by using a pacifier clip instead of tying the pacifier to your baby or a crib. These pacifier clips were our favorite as they’re safe, don’t present a choking hazard, washable, affordable and come in various adorable prints.
Choose the Correct Size
Pacifiers come in various sizes for babies under and over 6 months. They also need to be at least one inch wide to prevent them from being swallowed.
It’s important that you don’t give your baby a pacifier that’s too small and can potentially fit inside his or her mouth – always use the correct size.
The BIPS Pacifier comes in 3 sizes – 0-6 months, 6-18 months and 18-36 months.
It’s important that pacifiers are cleaned regularly, for obvious reasons. I boiled my son’s pacifiers for 5 minutes every evening until he was 6 months old.
After that I simply washed them with dish soap and hot water daily and then boiled them once a week. Of course, if he or anyone else in the family was sick with a contagious illness, then I would sterilize them daily.
There are also special bottle/pacifier sterilizers that you can buy, but the boiling water method worked perfectly for us.
If you’re planning to breastfeed your baby, breastfeeding experts recommend that you spend the first few days or weeks becoming comfortable with breastfeeding before introducing a pacifier.
It’s also important to remember that a pacifier should only be used to soothe and not to delay feedings.
Watch for Ear Infections
You may have heard about studies that link pacifiers to ear infections. My son is 3 years old, was bottle fed and used a pacifier and has never had an ear infection, so while there may be some studies linking pacifier use to ear infections, it’s certainly not a given.
If you’re concerned about this, then it’s recommended to only give your baby a pacifier when they’re going to sleep and to eliminate pacifier use by 10 months of age.
How to Wean Your Child From The Pacifier
Some experts suggest breaking the pacifier habit as early as 6 months before any emotional attachment forms, however full disclosure – there was no way in God’s name that I was giving up the pacifier for my son at 6 months!
Most authorities agree that 4 years is the maximum to avoid overbites and other dental issues. Of course, every child is different, so you’ll need to decide what works for your family.
Personally, my goal was for my son to stop using his pacifier by the time he was 2 1/2 years old and we achieved that goal.
Here are some strategies to stop pacifier use:
Go Cold Turkey
Different people succeed through different measures – for us, the cold turkey method is what worked.
My son had been less interested in using his pacifier during the day, unless he was feeling unwell or upset. However, he was still using his pacifier to go to sleep ever night.
One day, I decided that it was time to say bye-bye to the pacifier for good. That evening, I read him his bedtime story then laid him down in bed. Of course, he asked for his pacifier and this is what I told him (verbatim!):
“Eww, pacifiers are yucky and stinky! Pacifiers are for babies! You’re a big boy now and that means you don’t need a silly pacifier anymore.”
His reply (giggling):
“Ew, yucky paci! Paci’s are silly, I’m a big boy!”
The following evening he asked for his pacifier again and I reminded him that pacifiers are for babies and he’s a big boy. We repeated this for about 3 nights and then he stopped asking.
This is the method that worked for us – I think psychologically, my son was very excited that I was calling him a “big boy” and he felt proud that he was a “big boy” and didn’t need a pacifier anymore.
Cutting a Hole in the Tip
If the cold turkey approach doesn’t work for you, then another method I’ve heard works well is cutting off the top of the pacifier.
This will, of course, make the pacifier less desirable/comfortable to suck on and hopefully discourage the use of it.
My mother-in-law told me that she used this approach with my sister-in-law. However, she used a slightly different method. My sister-in-law didn’t mind sucking on a pacifier with the tip cut off, so my mother-in-law cut a little bit more off each day until there was nothing left to suck on!
If you want to proceed more gradually, you can simply cut back on the amount of time your child uses the pacifier, saving it only for times when they feel there is an urgent need (for example, when they’re upset or hurt.)
Gradually, they will start to feel it’s less and less necessary.
Tell the “Pacifier Fairy” Story
If your child is old enough to understand stories, then the “Pacifier Fairy” can be helpful in cutting the pacifier habit.
The pacifier fairy is the same concept as the tooth fairy. One evening, tell your child the story of the pacifier fairy and how she comes and takes pacifiers in exchange for a small gift. Get your child excited about the concept (you could even draw some pictures of the pacifier fairy.)
Then the following evening, announce that the pacifier fairy is coming tonight and you need to leave the pacifier on the bedside table (or somewhere else in the room) so the pacifier fairy can easily find it.
Exchange the pacifier for a special surprise in the evening and voila!
Whatever strategy you use, try to give your child incentives for parting with their pacifier. Children are very reward focused, and respond well to praise and/or small treats. Praise them for becoming a “big” boy or girl. Plan a special outing or serve their favorite meals. You can also try giving them alternative comfort object if needed, like a stuffed toy.
Remember to stand firm if your child begs for their pacifier and ensure grandparents and other caregivers do the same. As difficult as it may seem initially, your child will soon adjust, and it will make the process easier in the long run.
And try to remember – your child will eventually give up the pacifier, so don’t stress too much about it.
Try all of the techniques above to see what works for you and your child. You may even find that your child decides for themselves that they no longer need the pacifier!