Helping baby wean off the pacifier

Pacifier. Paci. Soother. Binky. Dummy. Bo-bo. Chusani. Chupete. No matter what name you know it by, there’s a good chance you have some kind of mixed feelings about it. It’s easy to love the way Baby might feel about it, and to love the idea that using it in their first months might reduce the risk of SIDS, but it’s a lot less easy to love the flood of horror stories about the difficulty of weaning a child off of it. The pacifier is one of those baby-artifacts that even non-parents or caregivers know is controversial.

Like with many changes in Baby’s life, learning to live without the pacifier will be easier for them the earlier they try it. In particular, children often start to form attachments to specific objects at around 9 months old, so cutting ties with the binky before that time can help head off some distress. Children who are still using pacifiers by the time they’re around 2 tend to have a significantly harder time learning to do without them. Many children start to lose interest in the pacifier at around this time, so it may be enough to just stop offering it, or to take it back if they spit it out. 

If Baby still seems attached to the pacifier though, you can start preparing for an easier transition in a couple of different ways. First, if you start limiting Baby’s pacifier use to just bedtime and naptime, it will disrupt less of your daily routine when it’s time to start really weaning them off of it. Second, if Baby has a more detailed bedtime routine that will remain constant when their pacifier disappears, so losing it is the only change in that routine, they may have an easier time adjusting to falling asleep without it.

When you do decide it’s time for the pacifier to go, there are a couple of different methods you could use. You know Baby best, after all, so you’re the best judge of which way will best suit their personality, and if the one you pick ends up not working out for any reason, you can always try the others.

The slow burn

Some parents feel that a gradual shift away from the pacifier is the way to go – first by eliminating it when Baby is out and about, so it only gets used in the house, then only during naptime and bedtime, then just during bedtime, and then not at all. There’s even an intermediate step where, once Baby is just using the pacifier to fall asleep, you can try to take it back once they are asleep a few times before the final step, so that their body can accustom itself to staying asleep without the pacifier. This may be a more difficult method than stopping all at once, as there’s a good chance that Baby will resist every step of the way. On the other hand though, they may not react quite as much over every step than they would to the shock of giving the pacifier up all at once.

Cold turkey

Parents who ripped off bandaids quickly instead of peeling them back carefully when they were kids will understand the appeal of this one. Baby may throw a bit of a fit when all of the pacifiers disappear from their life all at once, but once that fit is out of the way, this method reasons, they will have it out of their system, and will be better ready to move on to life AP (after pacifier).

A variation on this one, which works best with slightly older toddlers, but can’t hurt with younger children, is to give Baby a few days warning before the great pacifier elmination – if you give them some time to prepare themself, they may have an easier time adjusting to giving them up.

The cut-off (pin)point

Baby is attached to the pacifier as something to suck on. If the pacifier were to, say, acquire a pinhole in the end of it – nudge nudge, wink wink – Baby might lose interest in it entirely. You can continue to offer the ‘broken’ pacifier whenever they want one, and they may stop wanting one altogether. The one thing to look out for is that the hole doesn’t turn into a tear that Baby could turn into swallow-able pieces by chewing on it.

More elaborate stories

As Baby gets older, the shift away from the pacifier may require a more involved conversation – they may need an explanation for why they have to give up something they are used to. If a family member or friend is having a baby, some parents ask their child to donate their pacifiers to the new baby, while others have their son or daughter trade his or her pacifiers for a new toy, either to someone like the Tooth Fairy or Santa, or just to a friendly clerk at your local toy store who might be willing to go along with the arrangement.

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