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Toddler Sleep Problems

No Pacifier, No Naps

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

My son is 22 months old. We recently stopped giving him a pacifier, which he’d only been using for naps and bedtime. After a bit of a rough adjustment, he’s back to sleeping great at night and at daycare, but his naps at home are a disaster.

He’s been pacifier-free for 2 weeks now. We had almost a week of struggling to put him to bed, but now he will go into his crib without protest and maybe fuss a couple minutes before falling asleep and sleeping through the night. At daycare, he had no issues at all adjusting to not having his pacifier. I think the peer pressure of all the other kids napping did the trick. His naps at daycare are at least 2 hours, sometimes up to 3 hours.

But at home, naps are not going well without the pacifier. He’ll protest at going into the crib and alternate crying talking to himself for 30 minutes before falling asleep. Then he’ll only nap for 30-60 minutes instead of the normal 2+ hours. I try not getting him right away when he wakes up to see if he will go back to sleep, but he won’t. Then he’s a cranky mess by bedtime. And I don’t particularly want to put him to bed early on the weekends, because then he just wakes up early the next morning.

Any advice on how to get him back to napping without a pacifier? Besides him being cranky, I’m pregnant and really need the downtime of him taking a good nap on the weekends.

Thanks!

I should start with the caveat that none of my babies used a pacifier beyond their first couple months or so. That wasn’t a deliberate choice on my part…my kids just never really liked them beyond the newborn stage. I would invariably go out and buy like, seven different kinds of pacifiers, find one that they SORT OF seemed to like, buy several more of that brand, only to eventually figure out that they were pretty indifferent to the whole thing after another month or two (or would just start spitting it out in protest). So then I’d give up, and maybe pretend that oh, look at me and my great foresight to take the pacifier away before it got too difficult, ha ha ha. 

Weaning Off the Pacifier

That said, weaning off the pacifier is really not all that different from weaning off of any other sleep crutch. You choose your method (gradual extinction, cold turkey, etc.) and you stick with it. For an all-day out-in-public binky sucker, weaning back to only having it for naps/bedtime might be the best first step. For an older child with an emotional attachment, books and a symbolic “giving them to the pacifier fairy who will give them to new babies” toy exchange can be the most effective. For a not-quite-2, already only-for-sleep user like yours, going cold turkey probably is the quickest (and least confusing to your toddler) method.

“Quickest” though, doesn’t mean you’re going to take it away and suddenly everything is fine three nights later. AS YOU’VE SEEN. The good news is that you HAVE seen marked improvement already: He’s sleeping at night and napping at daycare. I think that’s a sure sign that you’ve make the right decision and just need to keep going. Nap issues ALWAYS seem to take the longest to sort themselves out, in my experience. Giving the pacifier back for naps at home sends an inconsistent message to him (not that you seem to be considering that), so just tell yourself you’re doing the right thing and power through this last and final adjustment period. He really IS ready and the nap protests are just a fairly run-of-the-mill toddler protest that he’ll lose interest in…eventually.

Strategies

In the meantime, the only way through it, is through. You can try a lovey or other toy he might like to mouth on or fidget with while he attempts to settle himself down. Turn on some music to distract him.  You could try putting him down for a nap a bit earlier so he can get his 30 minutes of protest in BEFORE becoming so overtired it affects his nap length. (I know. Even after an overtired baby/toddler falls asleep, they tend to not sleep as long and wake up earlier. Sleep is weird.) You can put books or some toys in the crib so after he wakes up, he still has some “confined quiet time” while you get some downtime. And yes, I would DEFINITELY move bedtime earlier on days when a full nap doesn’t happen. FOR NOW. If he’s waking up significantly earlier in the morning, that can actually just be another symptom of his general overtiredness. You can even just do a 15 minute scooch forward on Saturday’s bedtime, then 30 on Sunday if both naps are lousy. FOR NOW.

Because while I KNOW this feels like it’s been going on forever and will never improve on its own and OMG you’ll never get a weekend break again…it’s been two weeks. If it takes him another week or two to finally give up the pacifier fight, that’s still honestly not that bad, in the grand scheme of things. You fought the good fight at bedtime and that improved, as did daycare sleep. Two hurdles down, one more to go. He’ll get there soon, I know it.

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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Comments

  • Rachel

    If he’s doing great at bedtime and daycare I bet the weekend naps will come along fairly quickly, especially considering there’s only been, at most, 4 weekend naps since you took away the paci? Weekend naps are hard because the routine gets broken quickly and every Saturday it’s almost like starting from scratch. Hang in there and stay consistent, I like Amy’s idea of trying to introduce a lovey (since you’re pregnant you might try a baby doll for him, kill two birds with one stone 😉 ).
    -A fellow pregnant mama with a 2-year-old

  • Brooklyn

    I’m going to insert a likely controversial opinion here – if Amy’s advice, which I think is good, doesn’t work out for you? Just let him have the dang pacifier during naps at home until you aren’t pregnant, tired and cranky yourself. If it’s not interfering with speech (which, how could it if it is only for nap 2 days a week) and it isn’t creating a dental issue (which, it isn’t for a 2 year-old, 4 hours a week) and it isn’t creating confusion for him (which, I sounds like it’s not because he’s already adjusted to sleeping at daycare without it from pressure from the other kiddos and sleeps through the night), give yourself permission to just let the kid have something that helps him self-soothe and gives you the much-needed down time. To this day, I have no idea where people’s dislike of pacifiers comes from. He won’t have it forever, and if it saves everyone’s sanity for a while, momma’s gotta do what momma’s gotta do to get by. It’s not like they give a gold medal to moms who break the pacifier habit before age 2. (I guaranty he won’t have it at his graduation. :-)) Then, down the road, you can try one of Amy’s tips for older children (such as giving them away to younger babies) when you’ve got the stamina to stick with it.

  • Karen

    I think this is less about the pacifier and more about a kid who, for one reason or another, realized he doesn’t want to nap at home. I had trouble with my middle kid not napping on the weekend even though he napped fine at daycare. He was home, he wanted to hang out and play with all the people and stuff he didn’t get to see much of during the week. If giving him the pacifier back for weekend naps solves this problem, then maybe that’s your 80% solution.

  • Sara

    Letter Writer here.
    Thanks for publishing my question and the advice!
    It’s been another few weeks since I wrote this letter, including a week when daycare was closed, so we’ve made some progress. We haven’t gone back to the pacifier at all, and my son no longer looks or asks for it. The good news is that my son has stopped fighting naps. He might fuss or cry for a couple minutes, but he settles down to sleep pretty quickly.

    The still frustrating part is that he just does not take good naps at home anymore. He’ll nap for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours (if we’re lucky), instead of the 2-3 hours that was typical before and that he still does at daycare. I’ve tried introducing a lovey, but he shows no interest. I tried turning white noise back on after months of not using it, but that didn’t help at all. Moving nap time forward or back a little doesn’t seem to make any difference.

    I was starting to wonder if daycare was exaggerating the length of his naps, but my mother-in-law babysat him one day at her house and he took a 3 hour nap there. I just can’t figure out why he doesn’t take good naps at home! But at least he now goes down for a nap quickly, versus all the crying he was doing before.

    • bookworm81

      Is his activity level different at day care vs home? If he’s spending a lot of time running around with other kids or even just being excited by all the other kids and activities he might just be more tired on those days.

      Alternatively (and this is probably not what you’re going to want to hear) it could just be that weekends at home are different than weekdays at daycare. I’m a SAHM and my 18 month old frequently takes longer naps during the week than he does on the weekend., even during the summer when his older siblings are home all the time.

      • Brooklyn

        Yes, this is an excellent comment. My MIL once asked me what exactly I was doing to make my children tired when I remarked that they napped better at day care than at home. I realized that I gave them almost no physical activity in the morning, whereas at daycare, they had lots. Once I made an effort to wear them out, the napping was much better at home.

  • Holly

    Don’t give in and give it back! It sounds like a perfectly normal response, and very similar to what both my kids did when the pacifiers were gone (at ages 2.5yo and 3.5yo). If he gets it back, it just sets a horrible precedent for “if I complain loudly enough, they’ll give in” and you’ll just have to battle it again later. Also – you want those pacifiers good and gone before a new baby comes along and he tries to swipe baby’s pacifier because he’s looking for a ‘fix’. I agree that weekend naps are always a struggle because they only happen twice a week. My 3.5yo skips naps on weekends at this point, but still naps at school very regularly. Go figure.

  • Marie

    Easy fix: Give him a pacifier for naps at home. I promise, it will not be confusing. My toddler (21 months) has not had a bottle at daycare since she turned one, and she naps well there. At home on the weekends, we (horror of horrors!) give her a bottle of milk before she goes down for a nap. Then she naps for two hours, just like at school. She sleeps, we rest, and she only has a bottle in her mouth for about 15 minutes of the day. She’ll outgrow it eventually, just like my older kiddo eventually stopped nursing to sleep, and in the meantime my toddler gets plenty of sleep.

  • rubberducky79

    I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who commented here. I am not the OP, but someone who has a 12m old who always slept with a pacifier. He never used it during the day, but it was pretty much a ‘must’ at night and at naps. Reading everyone’s stories gave me the confidence to just pull it– that it wouldn’t be terrible, none of us would die, and we would actually still all get some sleep. And so on a random Monday night, I did it. And you know what– it was really fine. It took him just under 20 min to get to sleep, with me going in twice to pat his back, and he was up once, for about 4 minutes mid-way through his 11h sleep. The next night it took him 15 min to get down, and he slept a full 11h, and the most recent night it took only 3min. Naps have been a similar pattern. I have been making sure to get him outside to chase the ball more to work off some energy as you guys suggested, which I am sure has helped. So thank you all for taking the time to share your stories. For at least this mom, they really helped.