Whether they’re crystal clear, neon-bright, or covered in rhinestones, pacifiers are the modern baby’s accessory of choice. But it can be hard when it’s time to give up the pacifier.
Thanks to studies showing that they reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), most pediatricians have given pacifiers the green light. A study in Pediatrics found that a whopping 68 percent of parents give them to their babies before six weeks of age.
Babies aren’t the only ones who love them; parents quickly become addicted to the pacifier’s soothing effect on their offspring. Unfortunately, it often becomes a habit that overstays its welcome.
While some children give up non-nutritive or comfort sucking on their own, others cling to the habit well into the preschool years. Using a pacifier too much or for too long can contribute to dental problems, including deformation the palate and shifting of the teeth, as well as mouth breathing and dry mouth, which may increase susceptibility to tooth decay.
Many pediatric dentists encourage parents to wean their child from the pacifier once they reach their first birthday. “Ideally, by 12 months,” says Dr. Nilda Collins, of Collins and Associates Pediatric Dentistry. “Just beware that a pacifier habit isn’t replaced by a thumb or finger habit, which can be even more difficult to break.”
“There will not be any dental problems if a pacifier is used until age one,” says Margaret McGrath, D.M.D., of Kent Island Pediatric Dentistry. The earlier the habit ends, the better: “If the pacifier habit continues past age three, the child’s bite may not return to normal, and may require future orthodontics,” she notes.
Potential problems extend beyond the teeth. Pacifier use is associated with otitis media, or middle ear infections. Minor health upsets like gastrointestinal infections and oral thrush are also more commonly seen in pacifier users.
Here are some tips to help kids become confidently pacifier-free:
Before embarking on a pacifier-purge, check out some children’s books on the topic. After listening to stories like “The Last Noo-Noo” by Jill Murphy or “Pacifiers Are Not Forever” by Elizabeth Verdick, your child may be more receptive to the idea.
When three-year-old Violet was ready to give up her pacifier, mom Bec Langham took her to a popular build-your-own-stuffed-animal store. Violet deposited her last pacifier safely inside the teddy bear before it was sewn up. The bear now serves as both a cuddly friend and a unique reminder of Violet’s younger days.
Your child may be willing to donate her pacifiers to a good cause. Gather up the pacifiers, and pay a visit to a friend with a young baby. Have your child “gift” the baby with the pacifier collection, and shower her with praise for her generosity.
The Paci Fairy
Steal this idea from Supernanny Jo Frost: have your child place his pacifiers in a large envelope to mail to the “pacifier fairy”. Put the envelope in the mailbox together before bed. Once he’s asleep, swap the envelope for a new toy. When he wakes up, excitedly take him to the mailbox to find his new treasures.
Make the Cut
Snipping a small hole in a pacifier can help it lose its appeal quickly, encouraging a child to give it up on his own. Be sure to dispose of a broken pacifier promptly, because it can harbor bacteria or become a choking hazard if a child continues to use it.
No matter how stubbornly your child clings to a beloved binky, eventually it will be a thing of the past. Once he’s free of the habit, you’re free as well—from relentlessly searching for them, washing them, and buying them. Enjoy your well-earned liberation. At least, until the next must-have item comes along.
Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer and mom to a former binky addict.