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Pacifier Weaning: Now or Later?

Aug22

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesMy 4-1/2 month old uses a pacifier to sleep but isn’t dexterous enough to put it in her own mouth.  When I put her down for naps or bed she is often fine, but if she loses her pacifier she will lie there crying until I come in and give it back to her.  Should I ride this out until she can put it in her own mouth or is this going to be a battle forever?  Should I just get rid of the pacifier?  And how do I do that?  She is just starting to settle into a nap schedule and is sleeping fairly well at night, so I don’t want to rock the boat too much.  But she does wake up in the night and needs me or my husband to put her back down.  Help?  All of the books talk about sleep training but no one seems to address the pacifier issue.  And honestly, I can’t read another book.  They’re making me crazy.  Help!

So apparently, I give birth to Pacifier Haters. None of my children would accept a pacifier after the first week or two. And I had nothing against pacifiers! Pacifiers are fantastic. I bought some in preparation for each and every baby, rolled my eyes at the Nipple Confusion Police and jammed one into their mouths as soon as my boobs started to hurt and I needed a break from the comfort sucking. They would seem enthusiastic at first — usually juuuuuust long enough for me to observe/imagine a brand preference and thus buy a half-dozen more of a particular type of pacifier. Each and every time, the pacifier rejection would start just as soon as I did this.

But while I would have been fine with the pacifiers (they’re a SIDS-prevention tactic too!), I admit that it’s much, much easier without them. My children have found other ways to self-soothe at night without a pacifier. Plus, I got to avoid the whole “how old is too old” toddler-paci-weaning dilemma. (Ezra was a hardcore nap/nighttime thumb sucker for awhile, but that habit seems to be falling by the wayside without any drama or dental problems, though he still does need his Taggie blankets.)

So…it’s not necessarily a bad idea to break the paci habit now, if it’s driving you crazy. I don’t know how old your daughter will be when when she figures out how to get the pacifier back in her own mouth (six months? ish?), and I don’t know how old she’ll be when she no longer needs it…or when YOU’LL have to decide that she no longer needs it. If you can encourage a different self-soothing technique now, you’ll not only save yourself from the nighttime pacifier-retrieval missions NOW, but you’ll be saving yourself from a potential toddler-power-struggle later.

How to do it? Well, weirdly enough, my pediatrician once sent us home with a whole sheet about pacifier weaning ideas, and even though I didn’t need it, I read it. And remember some of it! (NOTE: This is why there is no room in my brain for important details like, say, my phone number.) As I recall, most of the advice was geared for older toddlers, but one suggestion said to start with pacifier-free naps, while leaving the bedtime routine alone. See if it’s at all possible to get her to nap (and stay napping) without it, using whatever you can think of: swaddling, white noise, rocking, singing, etc.

If you can get her sleeping during the day without the pacifier, then you’ll know that you might have a shot at eliminating it at night, too. (If naps are a complete and total disaster day after day after day, then it might be preferable to stick with the nighttime retrieval routine for a few months more.) You mentioned reading books about sleep training, so if there’s an approach you feel comfortable with, you would basically 1) go cold turkey-ish on the pacifier, and 2) follow that approach’s recommendations when your daughter cries out for it at night.

(Note that I really am incredibly neutral on healthy sleep training, because I believe every baby is different and it’s all about finding the approach that is the right fit for your baby. Noah needed to cry and fuss for a minute or two before falling asleep, and once I started timing it I realized I was rushing in after all of 30 seconds and basically re-waking a baby who was 60 seconds away from a good solid sleep. For Ezra and Ike, letting them cry CLEARLY escalated their stress and left them unable to settle down, we’ve had to use different techniques [swaddling, white noise, music, loveys, routine, routine, ROUTINE] to help them sleep. But I wouldn’t really say that we “trained” any of our boys to sleep, but just sort of went with our instincts about what seemed to work best with each baby, each time, using bits and pieces from different approaches.)

If your daughter is not an “escalator,” it might just take a couple nights of going in, patting her and letting her fuss a bit on her own before you’re pacifier-free. If the crying for the pacifier becomes epic screaming every night, then you’ll need to reassess how much the pacifier thing bothers you or figure out some other solution that calms her down. But above all, don’t stress too hard about it:  four-and-a-half months is still so very little and still in that age range of “just give your baby whatever your baby needs to sleep and don’t worry about spoiling or bad habits or etc.” If the pacifier-retrieval is driving you up-the-wall crazy and is more trouble than it’s worth, tell yourself you’re doing everybody a favor by encouraging a different self-soothing technique sooner rather than later. If you decide to take the path of least resistance and deal with this for another month or two until your daughter’s motor skills let her retrieve her own pacifier, well, tell yourself that hey, pacifiers reduce the risk of SIDS and most babies give them up on their own anyway, so whatever. Go with your instincts: Whatever results in the most sleep for her AND YOU is probably the right answer.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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19 Responses to “Pacifier Weaning: Now or Later?”

  1. Kim Aug 22 at 12:11 pm Reply Reply

    Plopping a paci back in seems like a relatively painless way to get a baby, who is likely to wake up anyway, back to sleep, but that’s just me. My oldest spit her paci across the room at 7 motnhs when she realized it was a tool to get her to sleep (she fought it every.single.time.) My second favors sucking her fingers. WHich, yay, self soothing! BUT- I could hold a paci in my oldest’s mouth, or slip one in while she was screaming, and she would forget what she was doing and mnumnumzzzzzzzz. Much, much harder to shove two flailing fingers in the direction of the yelling mouth. And I have know idea how I will break her of the habit, because lalala I’m not going there yet (she’s 19mo.) Can’t exactly gather her fingers up for the Binky Fairy. My bff’s daughter was a confirmed binky user, and would scream out mid-tantrum “I need my binky” and blammo, she’d calm herself down. It took her a long time to give them up, but hey, identifying a coping mechanism and letting it work is a huge life skill, one I haven’t entirely mastered myself. So yeah, you don’t NEED the pacifier, but eh, no problem with it either.

  2. Marnie Aug 22 at 12:43 pm Reply Reply

    At the suggestion of friends who also had kids who loved the paci, we put several in her crib at night. Best. Idea. Ever. I think we had about 3 or 4 in there, so that if she woke up she could easily find one pretty quickly. As for weaning, when my daughter hit about 6 months or so, the paci became a crib-only thing. I’d have her take it out and toss it in bed and we’d wave good bye on the way out of the room, then pick it back up at nap or bed time. (BTW, that rule didn’t necessarily apply if we were traveling – it can be a huge help on airplanes.) We tried weaning around 8 months, and it was so painfully horrifying for everyone we let it go. She was around 2 when we realized she probably didn’t really need it any longer. I picked up “Baby Bunny’s Pacifier Plan” at the library and we read it over and over and over and over for a couple days – and she was done. Just like that.

  3. Sara Aug 22 at 1:32 pm Reply Reply

    I am currently reading “The no cry sleep solution” and the author suggests taking the soother out juuuuust before they fall asleep. If they fuss, you can give it back and then try to take it out again juuuuust before they fall asleep, repeat as necessary. The author also says, it may not work this nap, but keep trying on the next one.
    I am currently trying this tactic because my 3 month old is waking EVERY hour from 12am – 5am because she can’t self sooth and needs her soother back…EVERY HOUR for FIVE hours. Thank goodness for co-sleeping.
    I was also wondering how old she would be until she can find it and put it in her mouth by herself because I just tried taking it out of her mouth for her nap, and she woke up and stayed awake for another 30 minutes. So just an FYI if you are going to try this, it may not be an easy road!

  4. Stefanie Aug 22 at 2:17 pm Reply Reply

    Ah, I remember this time, stumbling down the hall to re-plug the pacifier and then back to bed without really being fully awake. You don’t have much longer until she can find it and replace it herself, and Marnie’s suggestion of littering the crib with pacifiers worked for us. We weaned around 15 months of age, when my daughter’s favorite game was to throw her pacifiers from the crib and laugh at me while I crawled around her floor trying to find them. That was considerably more aggravating than just putting in back in her mouth. To wean, I just put her down at night without her pacifier (we had already limited it to crib-only.) She cried long enough for me to think I was a terrible mother and head up the stairs to return it to her, only to discover she had just fallen asleep. After a day or two of that for nighttime sleep, we did the same for naps. It was something I worried about like crazy, but turned out to be no big deal at all. Our ped did say it’s much easier to wean them from a pacifier before 18 months, though, so maybe between the time when they are really good at self-soothing and when they become truly attached is the magic formula?

  5. Nerwal Aug 22 at 4:40 pm Reply Reply

    I have twins and was lucky enough to be able to cut them off pacifiers before they were a year old. I just slowly weaned them off – first they didn’t get them at naps, ans then, not at night. They only got them then when we were out and about and were cranky, but I stopped that, too. I knew that I didn’t want them to have them at one year and so we started around 8 months (I think). It was a rough couple of nap times and nights, but not too bad. I guess I should also say that my kids are good sleepers (both STTN at 10 weeks – yes I know I am incredibly lucky) and that may have something to do with the easy success. Good luck! 

  6. Kimberly Aug 22 at 5:35 pm Reply Reply

    We weaned our son at 26 months – found a new baby at daycare who “needed” his pacis. No drama! Glad we waited. After 12 months, he only had pacis at nap and nighttime (no paci at daycare nap through). We also put lots of pacis in the crib – 5 to 6 each night. Much prefer the half-asleep stumble to reinsert the paci! good luck!

  7. liz Aug 22 at 5:43 pm Reply Reply

    We were having similar problems and ended up weaning at about 6 months. The books I was reading said putting several in bed with him was a bad idea and we were trying to do what the books said because we certainly didn’t know what we were doing. Anyway, like many things with the baby, the first few days were very hard, then LIKE MAGIC they were better. He stopped waking up for the paci and we realized the paci falling out was really the culprit in his waking habit–without it, he didn’t wake up. In fact, he had a third nap built into his day around 5:00 that we realized was entirely dependent on the paci. After we weaned, he went down to two naps. I don’t regret weaning early because while he was upset, he got over it very quickly. I also liked getting to see his mouth and smile more often :-)

  8. Jenn Aug 22 at 6:45 pm Reply Reply

    The annoyance doesn’t end when they figure out how to put it in themselves… my son got the hang of that pretty quickly but then started throwing the paci out of the crib and then crying for it. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t have pushed the paci so much in the beginning,

  9. Shelly Aug 22 at 7:01 pm Reply Reply

    My son was a hard core paci user until about 7 months when he got a cold. He had to breathe through his mouth, so he couldn’t use the paci. After his gold, we didn’t re-introduce the paci, and he was fine without it. Not saying that you should hope that your baby gets sick, but I also know 2 other mothers whose babies gave up the paci when they had a cold. If you can, I would do it before a year, but 4-5 months seems pretty early to me.

  10. lindswing Aug 22 at 10:41 pm Reply Reply

    I know you said no more books, but the No Cry Sleep Solution does have a really great section on paci weaning.  I say really great only theoretically, of course.  My 23 month old still uses his, though just for sleep, much to his endless dismay (oh, how he loves his paci).  I want to add to the discussion that just possessing the motor skills to put a paci back into one’s mouth (and access to half a dozen pacis in a bed) does not always equal a child who will do so.  My son has great fine and gross motor skills, and he JUST started sometimes putting his own paci back in while in his bed.  He will still frequently lie there and wail for us with his paci(s) inches from his face.  He’s an accelerator, so giving him time to feel around for it just always ended in an hour of hysterical crying on our shoulder rather than learning to do it himself.  My husband is pretty delusional when awakened, so I’m thinking our son isn’t quite in his right mind when he wakes a little.  It’s a delight, let me tell you (it’s not actually a delight).  I suppose the moral of the story is that maybe it’s a good idea to realize that it might be smarter to get rid of it now before your daughter is super attached?  Of course, I’ll do the paci thing again with our next child, and it’s been a real lifesaver a million other times.  Like for weaning from breastfeeding, which we just completed alllll the way about a week ago.  Having a pacifier to replace what had formerly been times that he nursed was super helpful.  Not essential, of course.  But it worked really well for us.  Good luck!

  11. Holly Aug 22 at 11:22 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter still uses hers at 17months, just in the crib though. They weaned her of it at daycare by 12 months, so I certainly didn’t undo that! It’s been a total lifesaver – I do remember the days of having to re-insert it, and it was so flippin’ funny how you had to get your hand out of the way otherwise her little head would instantly fall down onto it after insertion (she would flip herself to her stomach to sleep). The pacifier was like an instant ‘sleep-switch’. Awesome. She learned by 6 months to get it in by herself, and I always put at least 5 in bed with her every night. I think that I’m going to wait until we can trade it for a toy, or maybe even plant them in the ground and watch the next day for the miraculous full-grown flowers to appear! But I’ll definitely dig them out – I wouldn’t put it past her to dig them out again in a moment of despair.

  12. Nicole Aug 23 at 10:44 am Reply Reply

    Thanks for this post. We had no binky issues with our older daughter. She easily transitioned from binky to thumb at around 6mo much to my dentist husband’s delight. She had a phase of crying before sleep and I remember sitting outside her room chanting, “just find your thumb sweetie”. Younger Daughter is 7.5mo and shows no interest in fingers/thumbs and is a stress increase cryer. Luckily, she’s figured out how to find her binky herself. Not sure what the future will be with the binky but limiting to sleep times and thankful for 9hrs at night.

  13. Kari Weber Aug 23 at 12:09 pm Reply Reply

    Both of my boys started spitting the pacifier around the time that their first teeth appeared.  For son #1 that was around 7 months… but for #2 it was around 4 months.  I guess it just didn’t feel right any more, and they no longer wanted it.  My suggestion is TRY weaning, and if it doesn’t work… keep up the night-plugging.  Like Amy said, there isn’t really a RIGHT or WRONG way to do this. You have to do what is right for your child.  The good news is, whichever works, IT WILL GET BETTER! Hang in there!

  14. lesley Aug 24 at 10:40 am Reply Reply

    Do what works for you, and realize that in the long run, it will be a very, very short time before your daughter can put the paci back in her mouth herself. My son was able to put his back in around 6 months old, and I second the input to place multiple pacis around the crib. You might try in the next few weeks instead of putting the paci directly in her mouth when she cries, putting it in her hand and helping her learn to guide it to her mouth. I am not sure I agree that life is always easier without the pacifier. It helped us so many times on long car trips, at church, in the grocery store, etc. that with my next child I think I will do things very similar to how I did them this time around–basically let my kid have it whenever he wanted it, and when he was old enough to understand the “you’re a big boy now and big boys don’t use pacis” at around 20 months, we just got rid of all of them. We tried the “only at naps and bedtime” thing, but toddlers have a way of finding all of the rogue pacifiers around the house and getting them. I don’t agree with the suggestion of taking it away at naptime but letting her have it at bedtime, either–I think that is just more confusion for your child and more “requirements” that you have to remember. If she can sleep without it at nap, she can go without it at bedtime too. Anyway, we took the “all or nothing” approach, and it worked for us. You will find something that works for you, too.

  15. sarah Aug 24 at 11:01 am Reply Reply

    Our son was the EASIEST to get to sleep with props: zip him in his sleepsack, pop in a paci, and he was good to go. Then he rolled over – so bye bye sleepsack. That took about a week of longer rock-to-sleep times, but nothing terrible. The night before our 4 month checkup, he had one of those “need to pop the paci back in” nights and we offhandedly mentioned it to our ped, who said that this was our opportunity! Wean him off of it! Which we took to mean “take the hard line & quit it cold turkey.” Another week of longer rock-to-sleep times, but it was fine.
    I have friends who insist on the paci and refuse to consider removing it until the child is 2-3 because it makes the night (and car trips) easier.
    Do you travel a lot with your child? would a paci signal that it’s time to sleep to your child in different environments?  

  16. Maggie Aug 26 at 11:04 am Reply Reply

    Just to add in another perspective: my first had hers until age 3! It was kind of a nightmare, she was like a little addict. She would hide in her closet just to suck on that thing without me knowing (only allowed at bedtime at that point) and she still remembers (at age 10) having a paci. WIth my second, I decided I would not go through that again, so at 7 months, when it appeared to be becoming a habit and not just soothing, I took it away. It required a little extra comfort nursing the first few days and then she was fine. I must admit that I had great sleepers in general, so maybe that made it easier. Good luck!

  17. Emily Aug 28 at 3:30 pm Reply Reply

    Ah, I never wanted to use the pacifier.. but the pacifier was a life saver. Now at 11 months, my daughter only uses it at sleep times. I’ve found that she can, indeed, fall asleep without one. Even in the crib, all alone. BUT.. the kicker is that if she wakes up and it’s not there, then she just sorta.. wakes up. If she wakes up and can reinsert it, she rolls over and sleeps longer. This is naps. As for nighttime, I’ve watched her wake up in the middle of the night (on the video monitor), find the paci, reinsert and fall back asleep. Therefore, I declare she still needs it to sleep. In another month, I’ll think about getting rid of it altogether. Depends on how she sleeps. Mommy needs sanity and sanity is dependant upon naps and sleeping through the night. I am very happy that it’s no longer a daytime use thing, though.

  18. Emily Aug 28 at 3:36 pm Reply Reply

    oh.. and we don’t have ‘rogue pacifiers around the house’, which probably helps. We have 2. And one is yesterdays and in the sink to be washed. And today’s paci is either unavailable (prenap) or on the crib (postnap). But if you’re the type to have them all over, then relegating the to sleeptimes only would be difficult. Our habits just came from fighting thrush over and over and needing to continually sanitize and throw away – so we never accrued a large quantity of paci’s to be left in different rooms.

  19. Amber Mar 05 at 12:57 pm Reply Reply

    My son held on to his binky like it was a lifeline! We actually started out by only giving it to him during naps and when he was real fussy, but as time went on, he seemed to want it more (it went from a suckle need, to a want). My mom found the bye bye binky method ( http://www.bye-bye-binky.com ), printed it and suggested that we go with it. At first I was a bit mad at my mom, but I soon got over it. The method worked amazingly well. My son stopped sucking on it after 4 days! He proceeded to carry it around for another week, but never put it in his mouth. He then got tired of carrying it and simply lost interest. Mom was right, it worked, highly recommended!

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