The pacifier… to get rid of it or not

The pacifier seems to be a common topic when it comes to sleep. Some kids love them, some kids hate them, some kids stop using them on their own and other kids need fun incentives to help get rid of them. I’d have to say, my favorite I’ve heard is tying it to a balloon and watching it float away! Not very environmentally friendly but you get the point. 

My opinion on pacifiers may be different than some other sleep consultants you talk to. Through my work with clients and my two different experiences with my own kids, I have come to my own conclusion. But before I dive into that, I’d like to start with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Safe Sleep Recommendations, because I believe their input needs to be known before making a decision…

Consider offering a pacifier at nap time and bedtime once breast feeding has been firmly established.

  • Studies have reported a protective effect of pacifiers on the incidence of SIDS, even if the pacifier falls out of the infant’s mouth.  
  • The pacifier should be used when placing the infant for sleep. It does not need to be reinserted once the infant falls asleep. 
  • Pacifiers that attach to infant clothing, stuffed toys, or other objects should not be used with sleeping infants.

AAP Website

Yes, these are just recommendations, but yes, they should be considered.

Now here you go on my opinion on pacifiers… they don’t bother me unless they bother your child. 

Okay so hear me out… when I chat with a parent that I am working with, a question I always ask is “does your baby use a pacifier?” If they say “no”, I leave it alone. But if that child is under 1 year of age, I simply just share the AAP’s recommendation and let mom and dad make that decision. If they say “yes”, I just put it in the back of my mind for later.

Through all my work with helping children get better sleep, the pacifier is a 50/50 split for causing issues. If a child can make it through the night with a pacifier, keeping it in their mouth or not, great! They just slept through the night. If that’s not happening, then yes, it could be the pacifier causing the issues.

Some may say “but if the pacifier falls out and baby has to wake up to look for it then that’s an issue because it creates broken sleep.” Okay I get that. I really do. But, if you didn’t have to wake up, walk into your baby’s room to put it back in for them, then again, you’re all sleeping through the night. Win! And this situation right here is mine.

My daughter didn’t take to the pacifier right away. She struggled with anything other than breastfeeding. Once she got a little older, we found a bottle that worked and additionally, all of a sudden, she liked using a pacifier.

Fast-forward to now, she’s almost 20-months and that pacifier isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’m sure you can relate, with a screaming toddler in the car how can I take away the one tool that I know will help calm her down? When we are ready to take it away, I’m sure it will be harder on me than her! 

Now this is our personal choice, but I can tell you that it has stuck around this long because never did I need to wake up, walk into her room, and put it back in for her. This is the key. And this is what I tell the parents I work with.

 

When and why the pacifier is an issue?

The body has sleep cycles consisting of light and deep sleep. Each time we come to the top of a sleep cycle, which lasts about 90 – 120 minutes*, this is light sleep, and we may even wake up a little bit. The difference between you and your baby is that you know how to roll over and go back to sleep, you actually want to!

They want to too, they just don’t know how without the pacifier.

After about 4-months old, your baby has these sleep cycles too. But their sleep cycle only lasts about 50 minutes*. That is a lot of getting up in the middle of the night. What it also means is that your baby is having a lot of broken sleep which doesn’t allow them to get to the deep sleep stages as often which is where all the brain growth and memory storage takes place. The very important part of their night.

*https://www.sleepfoundation.org/baby-sleep/baby-sleep-cycle

If your sleep journey with your little one isn’t like some and you’re spending your time all night long putting it back in their mouths, then this is where it becomes a sleep prop. A sleep prop is anything that causes you to have to do something for your baby in order for them to go do sleep. These babies are waking up at the beginning of each sleep cycle thinking “hey where’s my pacifier?” If they aren’t old enough to put it back in or can’t even find it, then a cry for help is next to come.

Like I said before, when a parent says they have their child using a pacifier I don’t immediately tell them to get rid of it. Sometimes a prop at night isn’t the pacifier but instead the dependency issue lies with being rocked to sleep or fed to sleep. Once a child is falling asleep independently, and we are still having issues, I then look at the pacifier as the prop. 

 

Ditching the Pacifier

If I am speaking now to you, and you know that the prop is the pacifier, then I have some helpful tips on how you can ditch it and get your sleep back. Working towards allowing your baby to fall asleep independently is the way to create a night only full of sleep, so good for you.

My first option that always seems to do the trick and the quickest, cold turkey. Younger babies will quickly get the hint and they don’t “push back,” if you will, as a toddler loves to do. Yes, that’s right… the toddlers. Little people who are high on will and low on skill.

It’s possible to do cold turkey with them too. It actually is still one of the best ways I believe to go about it. Toddlers need rules and boundaries. The moment you bend a little, they now see that as a boundary they just broke down, will want more and won’t remember this as a rule anymore because it wasn’t followed through. 

Ever read the book “If you give a mouse a cookie”?  After you give him a cookie, he wants milk, after you give him the milk, he wants a straw to drink the milk… see where I’m going with this?

Now I’m not saying to spring it on them like, “Good night sweetie, oh and by the way I’m not going to give you this binkie that you are severely attached to. Okay? Sweet dreams.” Yeah not going to be successful with that route, and it’s really not fair.

On the other hand, you don’t want to drag it out either and create this big event and high expectations that just makes them nervous. Then they really won’t sleep worrying about it. A good time to start would be at the dinner table. Enough time to prep them but not too much that allows them to overthink it.

Toddlers love growing up into “big kids.” Play up this big change into a really good sounding one. Keep it positive and encouraging so they believe they can do it too. You may even tell them about another big kid they know who doesn’t use the pacifier anymore.

Another trick, really, is to tell them about the pacifier fairy. A bit dirty of a trick but it can work. Tell them that the fairy is going to come collect their paci and in exchange leave a little surprise for them. You know your kiddos so up to you if you think this approach will be effective. 

I have even heard of the older sibling passing on the pacifiers to the new baby who needs them. Or a new baby friend works too. Make it fun! Wrap the paci up in a cute box and add a bow so they feel really good about it. How can this selfless act not warm your heart at a mother too?

Don’t forget about the balloons floating the pacifier away too! It can happen! 

 

The groundwork is laid… now what?

I’m going to be honest with you. After all of this prep, 99% of kids will freak out a bit when it comes to going to sleep without the binkie. Breaking habits even for us as adults is tough so put yourself in a toddler’s shoes, they have no idea what to do with all these emotions.

When the push back comes my advice is to redirect the best you can. This is my advice really for any toddler meltdown; “oh hey this looks like a cool toy over here let’s play with this!” (and forget your older brother just stole the toy you were playing with.) You can also have a favorite treat on standby, or a cartoon they can go and watch. Then for the night, you can even add in an incentive and remind them they get a little prize in the morning for being such a big kid!

It’s important to acknowledge how they feel, give them sweet cuddles but don’t give in. Remember bending those rules will cause more harm then good. Because they know they just figured out the way to get what they want when you try to do this again, and they’ll be ready with the waterworks.

Each child is different, and you know what approach is best for them. Either way you go, in a short period of time you will become a paci-free household. And this means everyone will be sleeping at night. 

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