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How and Why to Use and Lose the Pacifier

when to use and wean the paci

The pacifier is one of those sleep aids that people tend to shy away from fearing their baby will become addicted to it and will end up a social pariah when they show up at the Senior Prom with their adult-sized binkie pinned to their lapel. But despite all the bad press pacifiers have gotten, pacifiers are a powerful tool that I encourage ALL parents of newborn babies to embrace, along with swaddling and white noise, WHENEVER their baby is sleeping. Pacifier use has many benefits including:

  • Sucking on a pacifier while falling asleep has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. (Note: You don’t need to put it back if it falls out, the benefit comes from having it WHEN falling asleep, not necessarily after.)
  • Pacifiers are enormously soothing to babies and can when combined with other soothing techniques (notably swaddling and white noise) can significantly improve sleep and reduce crying.
  • Pacifiers can meet baby’s need to suck while giving Mom’s boobs a much deserved break (and give Dad a chance to step in). And despite previous beliefs about pacifier use undermining breastfeeding efforts, current research suggests pacifier use doesn’t negatively impact breast feeding and may even help.
  • Pacifier use leads to more saliva which is a natural antacid (especially useful for refluxing babies).

Do you Need to Wean Off the Pacifier?

MAYBE.

Many babies can happily use the pacifier for months or even years. Dr. Karp suggests that babies should continue to use the pacifier for up to a year or longer. He also suggests that getting rid of the pacifier is no big deal. Which seems to contradict all the parents for whom the paci has become the bane of their existence.

So it seems that some proportion of babies will have no issues weaning the pacifier but the remaining babies will wake up screaming about the pacifier every 1-2 hours all night long until they are 3. Which means their parents will need to get up 4,380 times to reinsert the paci before their child a) outgrows it or b) figures out how to get it and replace it for themselves.

If you’re running into any of these issues then it’s time for the pacifier to go:

  • Your whole life has devolved into paci hell. If the path between your bed and baby’s crib has become your own personal Trail of Tears as you shuffle back in every 45 minutes all night long to reinsert the paci.
  • Baby has chronic ear infections.
  • Baby is over two years old. There is some conflicting recommendations about dental care and pacifier use. But there does seem to be some evidence that consistent use of a pacifier past 2 can lead to tooth misalignment (although the real issues seem to happen when using a pacifier past 4). It’s also been linked to tooth decay.

When to Lose the Pacifier?

The easiest time to stop using the pacifier is just before ~4-5 months of age. Babies don’t remember things exist at this point so out of sight is literally, out of mind. If you’ve been giving them lots of soothing sleep cues (swaddle, white noise, sleep routine), the loss of pacifier at 4 months may go virtually unnoticed.

HOWEVER

If you stop using the pacifier before 4 months you…

  • Miss out on the SIDS protection provided by pacifier use at the time when the risk of SIDS peaks (the risk significantly decreases after 6 months).
  • Remove a powerful tool from your arsenal in successfully navigating the dreaded 4 month sleep regression.
  • For some particularly oral babies, even WITH all the great soothing you’ll continue to provide, you’ll see more night waking and shorter naps.

Still for most of you, gradually weaning off the pacifier before your baby is 5-6 months old is probably the easiest and least error-prone option. I would encourage you to discuss this decision with your pediatrician to help weigh the potential advantages (ease of weaning) against the disadvantage (forgone reduction in SIDS risk). Babies at greater risk of SIDS (preemies, exposure to smoking, etc.) might be encouraged to continue to use the pacifier until their first birthday for safety purposes.

But what if you DIDN’T ditch the pacifier by 4 months? What if you’re now the parent of an 8 month old baby who screams as if in physical pain if the paci isn’t reinserted within 5 seconds after waking throughout the night?

It’s time to come up with and execute a paci weaning plan.

Weaning the Pacifier

There are two basic strategies to getting out of paci hell. But regardless of which strategy works for you, every parent who is working on ditching the pacifier should do ALL of the following:

1

Give your baby MANY sleep cues.

If you’ve been popping in a paci then plunking baby in bed you’ve got a “not enough sleep cues” problem. When you remove the paci you’ve left….nothing! So before you lose the paci, make sure you’re giving your baby as many age-appropriate sleep aids as possible. At any age, this should include a consistent bedtime routine, loud white noise, and a dark room. For younger babies (under 6 months), also use a swaddle. For older babies/toddlers, a lovey.

2

Cut down paci use during the day.

Lots of babies simply exist WITH a pacifier. But if you’re ready to drop the pacifier at sleep time, it’ll go easier if you start with day time. Start with small windows of time and use lots of distraction (songs, play, go outside) to distract baby from the loss of beloved pacifier. Gradually increase those windows until there is little or no paci use during the day. (It’s OK to keep using the paci for particularly rough spots if you need it.)

3

Market the lovey.

Talk about the fairy who said good-bye to her paci but had a magic lovey who cuddled with her whenever she slept. Wear the lovey under your shirt so it smells like something wonderful (YOU!). Play with the lovey together.

Two Methods to Quit the Paci

#1 – Go Cold Turkey

I love Ferber. His book isn’t fabulously entertaining but it’s a fantastic resource based in credible science. This is a direct quote from his book about how to loose the paci.

Often, falling asleep just once or twice without the pacifier is enough for a child to master sleeping without it. If he is very sleepy at bedtime, the learning will be even easier, so starting with a later than usual bedtime for the first two nights will help. Sleeping without the pacifier should certainly be routine after one or two days.

So simple, right? Honestly I don’t know what all the pacifier fuss is about. Just stop using it.

However if we squint a little, it should be clear that what Dr. Ferber is talking about here is CIO. And depending on how things are going, your baby’s age and temperament, and just how exhausted everybody is, this is definitely an option to consider. Or at least consider it as a fallback plan. But first you might want to have a go with….

#2 – The Pull Out Method

Of course if you were successful with this strategy you wouldn’t have a baby to begin with (badum-CHING!). Some of you may know this method as the Pantley Pull Out/Off. You do your normal soothing bedtime routine and put baby down in the crib with the paci. When baby’s sucking slows you gently break the seal and remove the pacifier BEFORE baby is fully asleep. If baby drifts off to sleep, it’s time to catch up on Survivor.

If not try to use minimal soothing to settle baby back down without the pacifier. Often jiggling the crib (so baby’s head jiggles lightly) or gently patting baby’s back like a tom tom are good non-invasive techniques. If your baby continues to fuss, reinsert the pacifier and repeat the removal process until baby falls asleep. This may take a while (hours) so it’s best to Tivo Survivor or you might miss out.

Repeat this process when your baby wakes up looking for you to provide your standard paci reinsertion services throughout the night.

The process should get easier with subsequent nights until eventually you don’t use the pacifier at bedtime at all. Some lucky parents will be done with this within a few days but don’t be surprised if you’re still at it for 10-14 nights. This technique requires consistency and patience. Just don’t give up and LEAVE the pacifier in baby’s mouth as this will undo all your hard work.

some babies love their pacifiersIf you feel it’s not getting you anywhere or your baby is just getting frustrated/angry with you and you’re ready to give up and just pop the pacifier back in, don’t feel bad. You aren’t the first parent who couldn’t make the “no cry” option work. There are many factors that feed into your ability to make “the pull out” work and most of them (baby’s temperament, level of attachment to the pacifier, sleep deprivation) are beyond your control. But it’s probably time to take Ferber’s advice and just. Stop.

So, anybody have any paci stories they care to share? Any super secret paci tricks that worked for you? Stories from the trenches?
{Photo Credit: Julie Chapa}

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233 Comments


  1. It’s been awhile since someone last posted so I’m not sure if you are checking these still…but here’s to throwing a question out there. I CIO with my 6 month old for the past week. The biggest struggle was the loss of the paci. He gradually fell asleep with only a little bit of crying and I’ve been able to get at least 5 hours of sleep – hooray! BUT I went in to check on him and he was sucking his thumb!! :( My question is, is it better to have him suck his thumb or have a paci? I assume the paci b/c I can’t ever take his thumb away… Or is there a way I could not have him have either?

    • Best advice I got: “lighten up. No one goes to college sucking their thumb or pacifier. Let her be a baby.”

      • Not true my sister is going to be 19 and still ends up sticking her thumb in her mouth.. Also my best friend had a teacher in high school who sucked their thumb. She would start talking to you and then stick thumb in mouth.

        • What? WHAT?!?!

          I have never seen an adult sucking their thumb and I can’t imagine a high school teacher who would do so. High school kids are unmerciless and I would imagine a high school teacher who was also a thumbsucker would get get bullied within an inch of their life (not saying this is OK, just that it would happen).
          Alexis Dubief recently posted..The Monumental Guide to Short Naps AKA Everything You Need to Know to Vanquish Crap NapsMy Profile

          • I was a thumb sucker until I was 13 yrs old. Go with a paci over thumb ANY DAY simply b/c of the turmoil your child will go through trying to break the habit. It’s something that is done unconsciously, and can absolutely inadvertently happen in public, or at inappropriate times. Not to mention the damage that sucking a thumb does to ones teeth/jaw over time. The way I weaned my kids off of their paci’s was to simply snip the tip off, a week later snip a little more off, and continue until all they have left is to carry the plastic piece around w/them. Turn it into a game and have them tell you how much to snip off. It’ll be tough the first few sleeps, but overall the paci is a security blanket, the point is not to take it away entirely, it’s just to get them to stop sucking on it.

  2. Hi!

    This is my first time checking out this site and I am already hooked! My little girl is 6 months next week and I really want to get out of the habit of using a dummy at nap and bedtime. I am up 10-15 times a night just putting it back in her mouth, she immediately falls back to sleep after but then I’m up doing it again about half an hour later when she stirs. She has never slept through the night not once, sometimes we have good nights when the dummy doesn’t fall out and everyone is happy (she still wakes up 2-5 times) but recently it’s been terrible. We are down to 0-1 feedings a night which is great but now I definitely need to tackle the dummy issue. I do leave her in the daytime during her naps if she has a little moan about the dummy falling out and she does settle herself back to sleep quite quickly. But at night when my husband gets woken up and he has to go to work I seem too quick to put it back in he mouth just to settle her and stop her from chatting / crying. She has a little blanket with a bear attached which she loves to touch her face with so hopefully this is enough. I plan to try to get her to sleep in the day without the dummy and then slowly introduce the same thing at bedtime. Wish me luck! Any advice would be great. I’ll keep you posted!!

    A very tired mum from London, England – Jodie :)

    • Very tired mum in NYC too!! Hang in…..

    • Hi Jodie,

      Just wondering if you have any updates on your mission to ditch the paci??? I’m about to start and I was hoping for some tips

      • Hi Anita, well we are now on day 3 with no dummy and it has changed our lives!! The first day was fine, we did cold turkey so all day there was no dummy for naps and then obviously we had our first night without it. Apart from a 3 minute moan from my little girl about an hour and a half after she went to bed everything went really well. I didn’t go to her when she started this cry because I didn’t want to replace the dummy with me going in to her every time she made a noise. Thankfully the cry didn’t last long and she soon settled herself back to sleep :) The second day we had a bit of a meltdown from her in her afternoon nap and I ended up laying with her on our bed until she fell asleep. I was worried that I had now started something and she would want me to do this all the time, but last night was brilliant. She went in her cot awake but very sleepy, as I placed her down she made a slight noise but then instantly fell to sleep. She seems to settle a lot quicker without the dummy because I’m not watching on the monitor for it to fall out and then going in to her to replace it a million times.

        So day 3 and she just went down for a nap and was asleep in about 4 minutes! It’s brilliant! I hope your little one does well without it, I think we’ve been lucky. I am so glad I don’t have to search around for a dummy day and night! I actually feel like I have slept now which is amazing!!

        Good luck with it, not many tips really but be strong and once you get passed the first day and night, for me the dummy coming back was definitely not an option. You just feel like you’ve made a decision and that’s that :)

        Hope it goes well!! keep me posted! x

        A not so tired mum from London! :)

        • Just a quick update, no cries at all all day during nap times…just put her down awake and 5 minutes later she’s asleep! Amazing!!!!

        • Hi!
          When you took the dummy away on the first nap, did she cry and u just ignored her until she went to sleep? I don’t have the problem of gettin up in the night but it takes 45-60mins to get her to sleep at bedtime because she drifts off and it falls out and she wakes! Just now tho I held her and after 1 minute the dummy started to fall out so I took it out and she is stil asleep…but on me at the moment…I want to be able to put her down awake like we normally do but without the dummy!

          Gemma
          North Devon
          England

        • Brilliant indeed – congratulations No Longer Tired Mum from London!

  3. Our toddler turns 2 soon. He suffered through a nasty double bout of pneumonia last month, and my primary suspicion is on his pacifier picking up the germs at daycare (he started at daycare just a few months back). Our pediatrician has cautioned us that his immunity will remain poor for a couple of weeks, and that we should be extra careful he doesn’t pick up another bug too soon.

    In our determination to protect him, we took him off the pacifier COLD TURKEY. We were very anxious about how it would turn out, but mercifully his protests have been token so far. It is day 4, and we don’t want to count our chickens too soon, but things are looking good. Based on our experience, I would say don’t be unduly stressed about going cold turkey. Each child is different, and you won’t know until you try.

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