Not only am I a speech-language pathologist, I am also a mom. My daughter used a pacifier and I was so thankful for the benefits that the pacifier provided when she was an infant. Pacifier use can help with sleepless nights, comforting a child during stressful situations, and helping to determine if an infant is hungry or fussy.
You may be wondering “what harm could a pacifier do when it has been so helpful?” The following cons have been associated with prolonged pacifier use: ear infections, dental problems, and delays in tongue movement.
Research has yet to show that pacifier use impacts speech development. With that being said, many speech-language pathologists would argue against prolonged pacifier use, especially when a child is speaking. Imagine having a conversation with a friend while having a straw in your mouth. You would have difficulty pressing your lips together to make the /b/ sound as well as having to use your tongue to keep the straw from falling out which could make it difficult to make your vowel sounds.
In a perfect world, your child would choose to discontinue using his or her pacifier when turning one year old. However, it is rarely this easy! It is encouraged to discontinue use of a pacifier as soon as your child turns one year old but at least by the age of 3 years old. Here are some tips that may be helpful:
- Limit the availability of the pacifier. This could be as easy as letting your child know that he or she can only have the pacifier during naptime and/or bedtime. If that does not work, then you can limit the pacifier by location. For example, this could begin with allowing your child to having the pacifier only in the house (not at the store/school) and slowly limiting to only allow the pacifier in his or her room.
- Pacifier Fairy. Just like the tooth fairy, the pacifier fairy comes at night while the child is sleeping and leaves a gift in place of the pacifier. Once the pacifier fairy comes, the child no longer has a pacifier.
- Cutting off the end of the pacifier. This makes the pacifier less enjoyable to use for your child.
- Quitting cold turkey. This may be the most difficult since it means that you would have to take away all of your child’s pacifiers and has the potential to cause your child frustration. However, the frustration will only be temporary as your child will hopefully learn to self-soothe without the pacifier
Discontinuing use of the pacifier is a difficult decision to make so it is important that both you and your child are ready for this challenge and it is important to be consistent with your decision! Until you are ready for this, it is strongly recommended that you encourage your child to use his or her words to communicate without a pacifier in his or her mouth as well as having your child request for the pacifier instead of providing the pacifier out of habit.