As a mom of two and a certified pediatric sleep consultant, you may think that I am anti-pacifier or that I followed “all the rules” when it came to sleep. But the truth is that both of my girls were pacifier obsessed, and looking back, I know I waited too long to wean them off it.
With all that I know now about sleep, I urge families to drop the pacifier after six months of age to achieve truly independent sleep. Can you keep the pacifier longer? Of course! It should absolutely be a family decision, and the pacifier can be so helpful to soothe your baby quickly, especially in those early months.
Recommendations from the AAP & the AAFP
Safe sleep is always top of mind, so I wanted to share recommendations around pacifier use directly from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Pacifiers are recommended for use by the AAP for babies under six months to help prevent SIDS. The AAP states that the pacifier should be offered initially at naptime and bedtime but does not need to be replaced once it falls out of the baby’s mouth.
While the pacifier is recommended for babies under six months, both the AAP and the American Academy of Family Physicians advise weaning children from it after six months of age. After six months, babies using the pacifier can be at an increased risk of developing otitis media, inflammation, or infection of the middle ear.
I also want to note that extended pacifier use can start affecting your baby’s teeth and speech development. Try to remove the pacifier during playtime when your baby is trying to vocalize. To prevent problems with speech, oral structures, swallowing, and ear infections, wean your child off the pacifier around 18-24 months, but ultimately by your child’s 3rd birthday.
Are Pacifiers a Sleep Prop?
A sleep prop is anything external that your baby uses to fall asleep. While some babies can replace the pacifier on their own, it’s still an external sleep prop. When I work with families, I don’t force them to drop the pacifier if a baby is under six months, especially because of the AAP recommendations. However, after the six-month mark, I strongly advise pulling it for two reasons:
- Your baby is going to be learning how to fall asleep independently, and there will be some crying. Learning to sleep without the pacifier won’t cause any extra tears now, but there will be tears down the road when you remove it, so why start over?
- Even if your baby can find their pacifier without you running into the room, they are not getting uninterrupted sleep. They are coming fully to the surface to find the pacifier which is fragmenting their sleep. A full night of uninterrupted sleep is not the same as a full night of fragmented sleep.
All babies, toddlers, and adults cycle through stages of sleep throughout the night, which make up their sleep cycle. If your child cannot connect their sleep cycles without the pacifier, then most likely, they’re waking up fully and looking for it or crying until mom or dad comes to replace it. That scenario is when I absolutely suggest dropping the pacifier.
So, what do you do if you’ve waited past the six-month mark or you’re even into the toddler stages, and you are ready to drop the pacifier? There are a few different approaches you can take. I’m going to talk through these next.
Dropping the pacifier cold turkey is by far the quickest way to remove the pacifier. I always recommend removing all sleep props/associations at bedtime night one. While this may feel extreme, you are making a drastic change to how your child falls asleep, and there will be some crying. If you remove the pacifier or other sleep props gradually, there will be more crying each time versus doing this all in one shot.
For this method, start by removing the pacifier at bedtime and then offer comfort as needed until your child falls asleep. Lay your child down awake, not drowsy, and use your voice and touch to soothe them. With this method, you really want to get rid of the pacifiers (throw them out), so there’s no going back. If your child is under six months, you can choose to keep a few pacifiers for those fussy times like in the car, running errands, church, or the doctor’s office, but keep them away from sleep.
Why would you want to go with the cold turkey method? The advantage of this method is that it’s fast. Initially, bedtime will be challenging, but after a few days, your child will be falling asleep without it. You would start naptime with no pacifiers the next day. This approach can be used with babies six months and up through toddler age.
Approaches for Baby Vs. Toddler
If your child is 2.5 years or older, there is a significant difference in the approach you want to take in dropping the pacifier. At this age, your toddler understands, and you can make them part of the strategy. Talk to them about the change and explain versus just taking it away cold turkey. I’m not saying there won’t be protests because there will be, but a lot of parents find it easier to wait until the child understands.
Start by restricting pacifier usage to sleep times — only naps and bedtime. Keep the pacifiers in your child’s crib or bed, so they’re not using it at other times during the day. Limiting when they use the pacifier will make it easier when dropping it completely.
Binky Fairy/New Baby
If your child is of toddler age (2 years and up), you can try the binky fairy method. Explain to your toddler that their binky is going to another baby that needs it and that the binky fairy is bringing them a special surprise in exchange for their binky. This item can be something used for sleep, like a special lovey or blanket. Have them leave their pacifiers at home, and when the child comes home, there will be a new gift waiting for them. There may be some protest initially, but offer comfort or their new lovey to help them fall asleep.
You can choose to give your child more control over their choice of a new comfort item by letting them pick the item themselves and use it “as payment.” Take them to Target or the mall and pick out a new stuffed animal they can snuggle with at night. They can turn their pacifier in as payment. They can also put their pacifier inside a Build a Bear, or you can even order a Binka Bear, which is made especially for dropping the pacifier.
Remove Before Fully Asleep
If your baby is under six months and the pacifier is becoming an issue, you’re probably hoping for a more gradual approach. This method is much gentler, but it will take much longer, and honestly, I can’t guarantee it will work. This would be most helpful for a younger baby that needs the pacifier to help soothe initially at bedtime. You can offer the pacifier at bedtime, but you want to remove the pacifier before your child is fully asleep.
With this method, the pacifier is taking the edge off, but they’re doing some of the work on their own. You may need to soothe your child with voice and touch if they wake up, which is why this method takes longer. You must do the same thing for night wakings — you can’t simply pop the pacifier back in and leave.
New Strategy for Sleep
Babies have a strong need to suck, and the pacifier becomes a major soothing strategy. When dropping the pacifier, your child is going to need to find a new way to self-soothe, no matter which method you choose. Most babies and toddlers wake up needing the pacifier throughout the night as they cycle through the stages of sleep. For younger children, you can help comfort them at bedtime while they figure out a new strategy for sleep.
Toddlers and older children may find comfort in a lovey or even reassurance from mom or dad at bedtime. If you’re feeling stuck and unsure of the next steps for pacifier-free sleep, I can help. Every child and family are different, and what’s worked for others may not work in your situation. Book a free sleep solution call with me so we can chat more about your little one and the specific sleep struggles.
Katie Roeder is a wife, mom, Pediatric Sleep Consultant, owner, and founder of Happily Ever After Sleep Consulting. Katie has her girls to thank for her passion for sleep and current career. Before becoming a sleep consultant, Katie was an exhausted mama struggling with night wakings and bedtime battles. After solving her little one's sleep, it was life changing!
Katie loves working closely with families to create a sleep plan that will help their little one become an independent sleeper in a matter of days! Sleepless nights don't have to be your normal just because you're a mom! If you're struggling, reach out to Katie, and she'll support you every step of the way.
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod Pet (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.