Unplugging the Pacifier

Carleen Hanson, MD

Dr. Hanson, Pediatrician, Meriter West Washington

I will be the first to admit that both of my children used pacifiers. My daughter didn’t start regularly until she was a few months old, but my son came out of the womb wanting to suck, so we introduced the pacifier much sooner with him. Both of them liked the pacifier during the day and really needed it to fall asleep at night. I remember at one point literally putting five or six pacifiers in my son’s crib, so that if one fell out in the middle of the night, he’d be able to find a replacement on his own.

Sometimes it can be hard to know when the best time is to stop using the pacifier … and the best way to do it. Each child/family is different.

An article was recently published in the journal Pediatrics regarding mouth injuries in infants and toddlers due to use of bottles, sippy cups and pacifiers. Researchers evaluated emergency room records and found that approximately every 4 hours, a child under the age of three has a mouth injury due to bottles, sippy cups or pacifiers, mostly caused by falling with the object in the child’s mouth. For some parents, the risk of injury may push them to want to get rid of the pacifier sooner rather than later.

I typically recommend parents should start thinking about how they’re using the pacifier when their child is between 6 and 9 months of age. This should be the time that infants can start to have other skills to entertain themselves and don’t need to have the pacifier to stay occupied or soothed. Specifically, I discourage parents from giving their child the pacifier during the day when their child is noisy or bored – it shouldn’t be used at this age as a way to keep the child quiet. Certainly, once a child is able to walk, they shouldn’t need to use a pacifier during the day.

Some kids continue to be dependent on the pacifier for falling asleep, and I leave it up to parents if they want to tackle this now or when the child is older. There are also other factors that play into that decision, so if you have concerns about this, it’s definitely worth a conversation with your child’s pediatrician.

I will honestly (and with just a tiny bit of embarrassment) say that both of my children slept with a pacifier until they were almost 3 years old. However, they knew that they wouldn’t be able to get out of their crib until the pacifier was out of their mouth, no matter what. For my husband and I, as two working and already sleep-deprived parents, the fact that the pacifier allowed our children to go to sleep with minimal fuss and sleep through the night was worth it. I will also say that getting rid of the pacifier at age 3, wasn’t as hard as I feared; both of my kids were willing to trade their pacifier in for a new stuffed animal, which they were happy to hug, both in and out of their bed.

Carleen Hanson, MD
Meriter West Washington

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