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Pacifier Weaning: Now or Later?

By Amalah

My 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

Amy Corbett Storch


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 [email protected].

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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