Some babies find it hard to settle down without sucking on their pacifiers. This self-soothing habit is a natural reflex infants learn even while still in the womb. While some children suck on their thumbs, others are given a pacifier to help them calm down.
The comfort and security pacifiers bring can indeed help a child relax and even go to sleep. But as the child grows older, the benefits of pacifier use may be outweighed by its disadvantages. Thus, weaning a child off the pacifier is necessary.
Some children self-wean by simply giving up the pacifier on their own. It usually happens when they start taking in solids. Solid food is more satisfying and keeps the stomach feeling full longer, which therefore inhibits the sucking reflex. Toddlers between ages 2 and 4 also lose interest in pacifiers as they get busier with other activities.
Parents can choose to completely take away pacifiers as soon as their child shows signs of pacifier rejection. Although these children may quickly accept the cold turkey approach, others may need to be weaned gradually. An easy way to encourage a child to let go of the pacifier is by offering a new security object. Having a security object is important for some children, but a pacifier may pose more health risks compared to other objects like a blankie or a plush toy.
Prolonged use of pacifiers can lead to dental problems like misaligned teeth and formation of tooth decay. The tooth decay may be more severe for a child who is constantly given a sugar-dipped pacifier. Because of this, many dentists recommend that a child be fully weaned off a pacifier at around age 3. Speech development and eating may also be affected by the use of pacifiers.
Many parents agree that the earlier a child is weaned, the better. You can start by limiting the times your child is on the pacifier. For example, instead of allowing all-day access, try to give it only when the child is inside a car, or before going to sleep (taking it off when the child is asleep). A gradual approach may be more effective since it slowly changes a child’s routine.
It can be hard to take a pacifier away from a child who has gotten used to it. One trick other parents do is to cut off the tip of the pacifier. This makes it awkward to suck on. However, make sure that there are no loose parts left which may lead to choking.
Your child may get upset over the transition, so be prepared to offer parental comfort. After all, the pacifier is only meant to temporarily soothe a fussy baby. Instead of offering it right off the bat, hold your baby when he gets fussy. Time-tested techniques like singing and slowly rocking your baby can also help him get to sleep.
A pacifier may look awkward on older babies, so the more parents need to follow through on weaning to prevent social embarrassment, especially when the child is with his peers. Taking a child off the pacifier can help in proper oral development, so be sure that the habit is not replaced with thumb or finger sucking.
Not all babies are given a pacifier. That choice is made by the parents. Weaning at an early age, however, is recommended by health experts to prevent any developmental hindrances.