How to Ditch the Pacifier
Let me just say before I get rolling here, that I’m not strictly anti-pacifier.
I mean, what mother could be? We’ve all been saved from a major baby meltdown by the quick introduction of a dummy into baby’s mouth at the right moment. Maybe they missed their sleep window by a little bit and were getting a bit cranky, maybe they got an unexpected bump on the head, or you had to swoop in and take the dog treat out of their mouth, and just before they go into a tantrum, in goes the pacifier, and like magic, all is well.
Pacifiers have benefits beyond preventing tantrums, as well. The AAP found that pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS, possibly due to the fact that baby has a harder time burying their face into soft bedding if they have a pacifier sticking out of their mouth. So given that very substantial and important consideration, I’m making the following recommendations based on the supposition that your baby’s over a year old. That doesn’t mean this is irrelevant if your little one’s younger than that, but just make sure you’ve carefully considered the pros and cons of taking away the pacifier before you make a decision. This is something I talk about with all of my clients with children under one year, so they can make an informed decision for their own family.
So here’s the conundrum from a sleep expert’s point of view; pacifiers can become a problem when it comes to sleep. If baby’s accustomed to falling asleep with a pacifier in, they almost always end up waking up in the night after it’s fallen out, and they kick up a fuss until mom gets up, finds it, and pops it back in their mouth.
Another theory states that it is actually harder for babies to get into the deep stages of sleep with a pacifier in their mouth, in which case it falls out and the fully wake before they even get to deep restorative sleep.
In either scenario, if they can’t find it, or they haven’t figured out how to put it in on their own yet, they’re going to get upset because they can’t get back to sleep, and they’re going to start crying for someone to come and rectify the situation.
And that, right there, is the definition of what we in the sleep consulting field call a “sleep prop.” Sometimes it’s feeding, sometimes it’s rocking, sometimes it’s some crazy combination of a bunch of things, but essentially it’s something that baby relies on in order to get to sleep that they can’t provide on their own when they wake up in the night.
More than anything, that’s the secret to sleeping through the night. Getting rid of sleep props is, hands down, the most important component to getting your little one sleeping peacefully from the time you put them to bed until they wake up, happy and refreshed, in the morning.
So if you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s IT! That’s exactly what’s happening with my baby!” then you’re probably going to want to take some steps to get rid of that pacifier, and I’ve got a few tips to get you through the process as quickly and peacefully as possible.
When it comes to breaking bad habits, I’m a cold-turkey advocate, and this situation is no different. Toddlers do better with absolutes than they do with moderation, so my advice to parents is almost always to just pick a day to make the change, explain it to your little one, and then toss all the pacifiers into the trash.
Toddlers can often adjust to new situations remarkably easily so long as things are clear and consistent, so don’t save one for emergencies or just-in-case scenarios, because it will be too easy for you to fall back on the pacifier to get a quick solution if your baby is having trouble sleeping, and then you’re just causing confusion.
Alright, you’ve made the decision, you’ve explained the situation to your toddler, you’ve signed a mental contract with yourself that you’re not going to do it by half measures, and you’re ready to go all-in. What’s next?
Now’s the time to flex those creative muscles and come up with a plan. How are you going to spin this change in a positive way? Toddlers typically embrace the idea of growing into “big kids,” so marking it as a milestone can be a big help. Make sure to present the change as a very exciting and positive occasion.
This is a bit of a dirty parenting trick, but you could round this off with the introduction of a “Pacifier Fairy,’ by telling your toddler that the Pacifier Fairy is coming to collect all of their dummies and, in exchange, is going to leave them a special surprise. Whether that’s something that your little one will embrace, I leave up to your discretion.
One quick side note here: I’ve seen a lot of situations where parents with a toddler and a newborn or younger sibling in the house will give the older baby’s pacifiers to the younger one. On its face, this seems like a good idea, but it can breed some resentment from your toddler when they see their younger sibling sucking on their pacifier. If you’re able to, get rid of your toddler’s pacifiers and get different ones for the younger child.
So, you’ve laid the groundwork, your little one has grasped what’s going on, and the house is now pacifier-free. Now you’re going to want to brace yourself, because in about 99% of all cases, your toddler’s going to go a little bit bananas while they adjust to the new reality. It’s nothing to be concerned about, we all get a little irritable when we’re breaking a habit, but I just want you to be aware that it’s almost never a seamless transition. There’s going to be some pushback.
When that pushback hits, and your toddler starts to lose it a little, my advice is distract, distract, distract. Keep some of their favorite treats on standby, have the iPad cartoons at the ready, and when they start to fuss about the lack of a pacifier, quickly turn their attention to something else.
You can acknowledge their frustration, offer them as much comfort and support as they need, but don’t apologize or give in. Remember that you’re the authority figure here and if you’ve decided that the pacifier is a thing of the past, that’s the way it is. Giving them a pacifier at this stage is only going to reinforce the idea that crying or fussing is an effective tool for getting their way.
Every toddler is obviously a unique individual, so use these guidelines in conjunction with your intuition, and within a few nights, maybe a week at the outside, your little one should be Binky-free, and your whole family should be enjoying the benefits of those glorious, sleep-filled nights... If you hit a snag or would like a some support as you move through this process, schedule your complimentary sleep evaluation call here. It's free and no obligation to book a service with me, but we'll chat about what you've got going on and get all your questions answered about how I can help!