A lot of parents who use soothers feel a twinge of guilt the first time they stick a pacifier in their baby’s mouth. However, dealing with a screaming infant in the grocery line or on a long car trip will make most parents try just about anything they can think of to calm the child down!
The truth is, it often works. Babies are born with the instinct to suck. They have limited means of expressing what they want and can’t let you know if they’re hungry, thirsty or in pain. Sucking soothes them and brings them comfort, which is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in its mouth, whether it’s a bottle, breast, finger or toy.
What about soother use with babies?
Soothers can be exactly that, “soothing”. A young baby loves to suck and I don’t see a huge issue with soother use and awake babies. I would not recommend using a soother until feeding is going well, as soothers can often mask hunger cues. I would caution against using a soother to put your baby to sleep. It might work fantastic at the beginning but you will most likely find that as your baby “wakes to the world” and becomes more aware of his surroundings he may start to wake looking specifically for that soother.
So then what?
The truth is, it is way easier to stop using a soother with a baby than a toddler.
A great time to help phase out the soother with your infant is when you feel ready to teach them new sleep skills. I often work with very apprehensive parents that are super skeptical about my suggestion of taking the soother “cold turkey” from their six month old while working on his sleep skills. I find it works fantastic and ends up being a two for one deal for both the baby and the parents. Because the soother is often the sleep prop, losing it equates to longer consolidated sleep for baby. Most parents find their baby is completely disinterested in the soother after this, and does not actually fuss more in places like the car or grocery store.
Now lets talk about toddlers
At a certain age, kids are more than capable of learning to self-soothe, and pacifier dependence can cause long-term problems. Many experts agree that soother use up until about age one is okay. Anything past age two and there are some worrying issues.
Here are some reasons you should consider ditching the soother once your child hits toddlerhood:
Soothers interfere with the consolidation of nighttime sleep. If your toddler uses one to fall asleep, she will most likely wake in the night and then not be able to get back to sleep until she can find it. Even if the child isn’t bothering you to help, there are still times when it’s causing a full wake-up for retrieval. While brief wake-ups are common in the night, when a child is soother dependent it often leads to fragmented sleep, which can make for a tired and cranky toddler the next day.
Pediatric dentists recommend eliminating soother use completely by age four, and limiting it by age two. Once your child loses his baby teeth, his adult teeth can be permanently affected by sucking on a soother. Overbites and crossbites can occur, which lead to problems with chewing, speech and appearance.
Studies are now linking pacifier use with recurring ear infections. In fact, children who use soothers regularly are up to three times more likely to develop ear infections.
Around the age of one, kids enter into their speech development phase. This means they will start trying on sounds and words and will often babble to themselves and others while they learn this new skill. If they constantly have a soother in their mouths, they might be less likely to practice talking.
Also, constant soother use can make it harder for a child’s tongue and lip muscles to develop normally, according to Patricia Hamaguchi, a speech-language pathologist and author of Childhood, Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know.
So how do you convince your toddler to give up the soother?
Some kids will start to phase it out themselves as they develop other coping skills around the age of two. But some won’t give it up without a fight!
Over a three-day period, you can start to wean your child off the soother by telling him he can only use it in the house. Whenever you go outside the house, tell him it stays behind until you come back. Next tell him he can only have it during a period of time during the day. So for example, only for 30 min during his/her TV time. Tell him that on the third day, it will be time to say goodbye to the soother for good, and then make sure you stick to the plan.
Be prepared for a few tantrums and tears, but don’t give in. I have found that parents are often far more worried about the idea of taking it away, than the actual reality of it. Most children are over it within a day or two.
If you are having trouble losing the soother, contact me for help!
What are some other methods you’ve tried for ditching the soother? Comment below!
Carrie Bruno RN, IBCLC