With or without a pacifier? That’s one of the earliest decisions you’ll make as a parent. And one that may very well affect your baby’s sleep. I’ve mentioned pacifiers/dummies as a potential negative sleep association in a previous post, so now it’s time to look at them in more detail. Are pacifiers bad? Should my baby still use one? When should I wean my baby off the pacifier?
First of all, remember that pacifiers (like other sleep associations and tools) are not inherently good or bad and that their usefulness or disruptiveness depends on many factors. Today I want to talk about a few things to consider when thinking about using pacifiers.
Pros and cons of using pacifiers
If your wish is to breastfeed, it’s best to refrain from using pacifiers for the first 4 weeks, to help your baby develop a good pain-free latch. You should wait to introduce a dummy until breastfeeding is going strong and steady (even if it takes longer than 4 weeks). If you come across problems with nursing, consider putting pacifiers aside, until the problem is solved.
On the other hand, a dummy might alleviate a situation, where a fussy baby only settles when nursed and mom (as well as her breasts!!) are exhausted. (Keep in mind though, it is also important to look for any other causes of crying, such as overtiredness too!)
Some studies have shown that using dummies can reduce the risk of SIDS, which is why the AAP recommends offering your newborn a pacifier. Also, babies who suffer from reflux (or hidden reflux) can find alleviation from using a dummy. Sucking stimulates saliva production in the mouth, and swallowing the saliva then helps with keeping their milk in the stomach, as well as supports digestion. It can also help them settle and fall asleep, as lying on their back can intensify reflux and cause distress.
Is using a pacifier bad for sleep?
Pacifiers can lead to catnapping and frequent night wakings between 3-9 months, as babies are unable to find and replace their sleep aid – the dummy – on their own between sleep cycles. This is especially true after the dreaded 4 month sleep regression where babies start to go through lighter sleep phases in the night more frequently. Because this “regression” marks a permanent change in how a baby’s sleep cycles work, and most babies don’t actually develop the hand-mouth coordination to put their dummy in by themselves until about 8 months of age, the parent putting the dummy back in at every sleep cycle (which is usually every 1-3 hours through the night!!) often becomes a new sleep association. So that’s why it’s important to consider if and how long you want your baby to use a pacifier – especially if there is no direct need for one or if your baby doesn’t accept it initially.
When to wean the pacifier?
In general, we recommend weaning the pacifier by 4 months of age, particularly if you don’t want to use the pacifier long-term, or if you don’t want to be responsible to replace it for your child throughout the night until they can learn to do it themselves. Even though it feels like a huge step, it’s actually easier to take the pacifier away completely when your little one is younger than 6 months plus, because they do develop an emotional attachment to it. Some parents choose to remove the pacifier before the 4-month-sleep-regression hits, others choose to wait it out and see how the regression affects their baby’s sleep and take it from there. You can read my story of how I weaned my daughter off the pacifier at 3.5 months old here – yup, even a sleep coach faces these kinds of issues!!
How to wean the pacifier?
Here are some short tips on how to remove the pacifier at different ages:
- If your child is between the age of 3-9 months, and can’t find and replace the dummy on their own, it’s best to remove it cold-turkey, for both naps and nighttime. This way they are not confused. There might be some tears, but after a few days, they will have forgotten all about it!
- For older babies, who can find and replace the dummy on their own, there is no urgent need to wean off the pacifier, unless you notice it affecting their speech or jaw development. The most important thing at this age is to start letting your little one actually find and replace it on their own, otherwise they may demand your help with the dummy, even though they physically could do it.
- Most experts agree that for healthy speech and jaw development, the pacifier and bottle should be weaned by 2-2.5 years of age. If your child has had a pacifier up until this point, there will for sure be a deeply ingrained emotional attachment. Involve your child in this decision, and talk about it with them, and then set a date where you will remove the dummies completely. Give the child a couple of options of what to do with the pacifier. We’ve heard all sorts of ideas from cutting the pacifier nipples up with scissors, to giving them away to a friend’s new baby, to tying them to a helium balloon and sending them flying away. Replacing the pacifier with a new special “big kid blanket” or a special stuffed toy can help soothe the transition, and celebrate this big milestone Expect some tears and frustration in the first few days – they may need some extra cuddles and comforting!
Not sure when, how or even if you need to wean your little one from the pacifier?? Join our Ultimate Baby & Toddler Sleep course for ages 4-24 months. This course will give you all the informations you need to first understand your child’s sleep issues (why are they waking up in the night in the first place) and then give you practical tools to get your little one sleeping through the night or with minimal night feeds (depending on their age and capability).