Parting with the Pacifier

How to break the habit.

Whether they’re crystal clear, neon bright or covered in rhinestones, pacifiers are the modern baby’s accessory of choice. Thanks to research that pacifiers reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), most pediatricians have given pacifiers the green light. And parents are taking advantage. A study in Pediatrics found that a whopping 68 percent of parents give them to their babies before 6 weeks of age.

Parents often admit to becoming addicted to the pacifier’s soothing effects on their offspring. Unfortunately, however, binky use tends to become a habit that overstays its welcome.

Ready to help your child relinquish the pacifier? Heed the following guidance for navigating the tricky transition.

Why Wean?

While some children give up non-nutritive or comfort sucking on their own, others cling to the habit of using a pacifier well into the preschool years. According to Lotus Su, DDS, of Pediatric Dental Associates, using a pacifier too much or for too long can contribute to dental problems, including deformation of the palate and shifting of the teeth, as well as mouth breathing and dry mouth, which may increase susceptibility to tooth decay.

Many doctors and dentists recommend ending the habit before permanent front teeth begin to emerge, which can happen before kindergarten. “I recommend stopping pacifier use by age 3,” says Dr. Su. “The earlier a pacifier habit is stopped, the less likely that there will be any dental problems.”

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.

Parents may be swayed by medical data and dentists’ recommendations, but kids often need some coaxing. Guilt-inducing lectures about dental problems or germs may be counterproductive, causing children to dig in their heels. Instead, help kids drop the habit with these tactics.

  • Read up on the subject. Before embarking on a pacifier purge, check out children’s books on the topic. After listening to stories like The Last Noo-Noo (Walker Books) by Jill Murphy or Pacifiers Are Not Forever (Free Spirit Publishing) by Elizabeth Verdick, your child may be more receptive to the idea.
  • Build a pacifier bear. When 3-year-old Violet was ready to give up her pacifier, mom Bec Marcher took her daughter 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 reminder of Violet’s younger days.
  • Do some baby charity. Your child may be willing to donate pacifiers to a good cause. Gather the pacifiers with your child’s help before visiting a friend with a young baby. Have your child gift the baby with the pacifier collection. Shower your child with praise for the generous act.
  • Connect with the Pacifier 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 bedtime. Once your child is asleep, swap the envelope for a new toy. When your child awakes, excitedly take him to the mailbox to find his new treasure.
  • Make the cut. Snipping a small hole in a pacifier can cause it to lose its appeal, encouraging a child to forfeit a binky on his own. As soon as that occurs, promptly dispose of a broken pacifier. It can harbor bacteria or become a choking hazard if a child continues to use it.
  • Put pacifiers out of sight, out of mind. Parents seeking the quickest route to pacifier freedom can simply throw away all of the child’s pacis. Kelly Stallings opted for the cold turkey approach with daughter Taylor. “The first night was rough, but after that, she didn’t care,” Stallings recalls. Be sure to get rid of each and every pacifier, so your child isn’t tempted to relapse— and you’re not tempted to cave.

No matter how stubbornly your child clings to a beloved binky, eventually it will be a thing of the past. And once your kid is confidently pacifier-free, you’re free as well. No more relentlessly searching for, washing and buying pacifers. Enjoy your well-earned liberation...at least until the next must-have item comes along.