Hi. My name is Lacy Morise. I am a mommy speech-language pathologist. And I gave all 3 of my babies the pacifier.
There I said it. I confess. I am now washed of all the guilt I have experienced over the past 8 years concerning my submission to the power of the pacifier. As an SLP I’m “supposed” to discourage its use, be an example to other parents, stand strong against the staunch arguments in its favor: it’s a great mute button, it makes long car rides tolerable and it helps your baby sleep through the night. But I had a weak moment…
When my first was born I had some pacifiers waiting in the wings but didn’t jump to give them to her while at the hospital. It wasn’t until her first visit with the pediatrician when he gave me his approval for it’s use that I decided to go ahead and give it to her. After all if my pediatrician, father to 3, had given it to his kids and all was okay, then that was the green light for me…right? Much to my relief (resulting in great guilt) she loved it! As did her brother 2 ½ years later and her younger sister 6 years later! However, despite all 3 of my babies using the pacifier, I did have some rules in place. I used their pacifiers cautiously; limiting its use to nap and bedtime past 9 months of age and taking it away completely by 15 months. I was shocked when at my youngest child’s 1-year well child visit the pediatrician said to go ahead and take the binky away at 12 months….really?! Isn’t it a little too soon? Actually, NO.
Most SLPs, pediatricians and pediatric dentists recommend taking the pacifier away at or before 12 months of age. Why so soon?
The pacifier is a great thing for infants. It allows them a way to comfort themselves, and reduces the risk of SIDS as it prevents that baby from falling into a deep sleep, which is when SIDS occurs. Not to mention the other fringe benefits I mentioned above, like quieting a rowdy babe, helping them sleep longer and making outings and car rides more enjoyable for all.
But the pacifier also has risks involved. Sucking on a pacifier past the age of 1 puts children at (a higher) risk for misaligned teeth. As those tiny white pearls are erupting, the pressure of the nipple of the pacifier can cause teeth to move around and shift. Also, the pressure can cause their hard palate, the roof of their mouth directly behind the front teeth, to change. It can push the palate forward, again changing the position of the teeth. These changes will mostly self-correct by the age of 2, but past the age of 2 the child is at an increased risk for these changes to become permanent. The pacifier can also contribute to delayed speech and language skills. If the pacifier is ALWAYS in the mouth, the child may (attempt to) talk less. And if the changes in the mouth and teeth occur, intelligibility of speech may be reduced.
Besides the physical risks, beyond the age of 1 a stronger emotional attachment to the pacifier makes it increasingly difficult for the child to detach. The pacifier goes from meeting a physiological need during infancy to providing emotional comfort to the toddler when scared, upset or sleepy. This is why I pushed my children to become attached to a blanket or stuffed animal along with their pacifier so when I took the pacifier away they still had an item that provided them comfort.
Ahhhh, the pacifier, its benefits and risks are many. It certainly is a double-edged sword!
So what do you need to remember moving forward, bravely in our pacifier-approving,pushing world?
- Don’t feel guilty about using a pacifier with your baby. It certainly has it perks, and we all want a happy, content baby. Just be cautious and keep reminding yourself you (and your baby) need to “give” it up by baby’s 1st birthday.
- What pacifier you choose matters. There are so many on the shelves today, choosing the best for your peanut can be overwhelming. Don’t be lured in by the flashy, cute ones…they’re not always the best. Choose a pacifier with a wider, flatter nipple. And don’t buy into the age progression of pacifiers. I believe it’s more of a money making scheme than a necessity. Sure, it makes sense; just as our baby grows, we buy them bigger clothes, so shouldn’t they need a bigger pacifier as their mouth grows? The real answer is NO! It’s actually better for baby’s pacifier to be smaller in their mouth, providing less pressure to the roof of their mouth and teeth, in turn causing less damage. So if your little one clings to the newborn sized pacifier and doesn’t want to change, that’s perfectly fine! Saves you money now and quite possibly later, avoiding an orthodontic bill down the road!!
- When it comes time to wean baby from the pacifier consider what works best for you and your babe. Going cold turkey works for some, but beware if baby continues to want to suck bad enough, he/she may find something else to suck on like their thumb. Which is considered worse because how are you ever going to take their thumb away??!! Personal and professional experience have lead me to have little faith in approaches that shame or try and convince the child to give up the pacifier on their own. Giving it to the new baby may cause jealously, bribing the child to leave the binky on the Christmas tree for Santa in exchange for presents may not be present enough. And certainly convincing the child that in order to be a “big” girl/boy means they need to willingly give up their most prized possession is just, well, shameful of the adult. Kids at this young age really could care less about being “big” and I don’t blame them. I think what works best is making the transition exactly that…a transition. I recommend the Lily Method. A system created by Dr. Alene D’Alesio, a board certified pediatric dentist and mother of 4 beautiful girls. Dr. D’Alesio never recommends the old method of cutting the nipple of the pacifier to her patients for concern of the pacifier becoming a choking hazard. When weaning her first daughter off the pacifier 5 years ago, she realized that there was nothing out there for parents to help with this transition. This is what inspired and motivated Dr. D’Alesio to create a method to help kids gradually lose interest in sucking on the pacifier. Her system includes 5 pacifiers that gradually change in shape giving the child less satisfaction from sucking, subsequently causing them to lose interest in the pacifier. Beautiful! Finally a way for your child to “give up” the pacifier with less tears and sleepless nights! Check out the Lily Method HERE, www.lilymethod.com.
So folks, no need to feel guilty about succumbing to the powers of the paci. It certainly can be “heaven sent” to help your baby adjust to their new world. Armed with the knowledge of how to use the pacifier wisely and with limitations, you now can face this stage in baby’s life with confidence!