Ah, the pacifier. What began as a quick solution to your newborn’s fussiness has turned into an unwanted staple in their regular sleep routine. Pacifiers are useful tools to help young babies rest easier, but eventually, you’re going to have to figure out how to get rid of the pacifier… 

… and it might not be easy!

Once your baby is old enough, the pacifier is no longer necessary. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that kids stop using a pacifier or sucking on their thumb around 18 months old since their teeth and jaw health could be negatively impacted if these behaviors continue. By two years old, the pacifier and similar crutches should be phased out, but a child left to their own devices could continue as late as four before voluntarily leaving it behind. Yikes! You don’t want that!

So in my opinion, it’s better to nip the pacifier habit in the bud sooner rather than later to avoid an attachment that becomes much more intense the longer it’s allowed to continue. I personally recommend getting rid of the pacifier by about 12 months. Once you get past 12 months, the negative effects on oral health are not worth it, and at this age, your baby has no non-nutritive sucking needs. If they are using the pacifier, it’s simply because it’s become part of their sleep routine. But I promise it’s easier to break the habit than you think!

So, it’s time to quit the binky, but how do you ensure that this major milestone goes off without a hitch for your baby? Whether you’re ready to wean a 12-month-old, an 18-month-old, or a particularly stubborn toddler, I can help!

Here are some tips for how to get rid of the pacifier, with special attention paid to your little one’s comfort throughout the transition. Together, you’ve both got this!

Choose the Right Time to Wean

As with bottle weaning, getting rid of the pacifier might be difficult for babies who rely on it as a sleep aid. Much of this can be mitigated by thoughtfully deciding on the right time to initiate the process. Their age and circumstances also come into play here.

Consider your baby’s age as well as their relationship with the pacifier. If you have a six-month-old who goes to sleep equally well with or without a pacifier, it’s well within the range of age-appropriate behavior. But you can use this time to get rid of it if your baby could take it or leave it. However, if your toddler absolutely cannot let go of their pacifier regardless of whether they’re asleep or awake, it’s definitely time to eliminate the pacifier altogether. 

Beyond a baby’s age, timing also matters. It’s generally better to wean your child off the pacifier during a relatively stable period in their life rather than a time of significant change or stress (think teething, starting daycare, ending swaddling, switching from the crib to a bed, etc.). Trying to remove one of their long-time comforts when they’re experiencing additional external pressures will likely not go well, especially with a grumpy toddler!

Of course, you want to give your little one the best chance at quitting for good, so be mindful of their age and accompanying factors if you’re thinking about pacifier weaning. 

Aim for a Gradual Reduction

Instead of going the “cold turkey” route, your baby may benefit from a gradual reduction in pacifier usage. In general, young children are not very receptive to things being taken away suddenly, as you well know by now as a parent!

Gradual reduction involves minimizing usage over time rather than simply throwing all the pacifiers in the trash overnight (even if you’re at your wits’ end!). It’s a method that’s more conducive to long-term success in stopping oral fixation. From birth until about 21 months of age, babies fixate on what they can put in their mouth since their earliest primary objective is to eat—that includes a nipple, a bottle, a thumb/hand, and eventually a pacifier.

To gradually reduce pacifier dependency, slowly lower the amount of time your child has the pacifier each day by limiting use to certain situations, such as naptime or bedtime. Establish clear boundaries around pacifier use and stick to them consistently so that your little one can learn and accept these new rules. You could decide that the pacifier is only allowed in their nursery or bedroom and only for the purpose of sleeping; reassigning the binky as off-limits when awake is a good start. 

I’ve also had great success with keeping the pacifier in the crib and if your toddler needs to suck then they can go into the crib to do so. This keeps clear boundaries in place and keeps them from having free access to the pacifier all day.

Encourage Self-Soothing Practices

Moving on from the pacifier provides a great opportunity to teach your child alternative self-soothing techniques. As they gradually reduce its use, they’ll look for replacement comforts, which is a normal part of quitting just about anything. This will ease their discomfort and streamline the gradual reduction technique.

For instance, your baby might find the same solace brought by a pacifier in cuddling with a parent, blanket, or stuffed animal prior to falling asleep. Non-tactile aids such as gentle music or sound machines also contribute to filling the void left after lifelong pacifier use, so try appealing to their other senses to distract from the absence of a binky.

If your child is older, actively include them in their own pacifier weaning by explaining why it’s time to say goodbye to the pacifier and let them participate in this “big boy” or “big girl” step. It’s helpful to keep your toddler engaged in activities and play as you’re showing them firsthand how to get rid of the pacifier: you’re demonstrating that there are many options to occupy their waking hours without having a binky in their mouth. 

Cold turkey is the easiest method with an older toddler because they have an understanding that the paci is going to go bye bye. You can have a conversation with them and then follow through with getting rid of the pacifier. (Make sure you actually hide or throw all the pacifiers away so they don’t happen to find one you missed).

Babies are more resilient than they may seem, and it’s important for them to learn self-soothing practices (and good sleep hygiene) from an early age. You can begin layering in other ways to soothe them to sleep before you take the pacifier. This makes it easier for your baby to adjust. 

Be Patient and Praiseful

Giving up the pacifier takes time, so being patient with your little one is key. There may be some setbacks along the way, but your gentle reinforcement can keep things on track. I also advise offering lots of praise when your child goes without the pacifier; a reward system could incentivize their progress and accelerate the process. 

While it’s easier said than done, avoid getting frustrated if your baby or toddler struggles to adapt without their pacifier. You’re an endless source of support and positivity for them during this endeavor, so no matter how challenging it gets, your role should be that of a cheerleader, not a coach. Empathize while maintaining boundaries to show your little one that you’ll be there for them emotionally but that you’re going to hold strong. Every baby and toddler is different and you know yours best! Apply that knowledge to make this journey smoother for both of you.

Parents of Pacifier Babies, Rejoice!

With Your Sleeping Baby, I’m here to help if you need some one-on-one support with this process. Binky tantrums can become a thing of the past as long as you have the support your family needs! I take pride in assisting families with children of all ages revamp their sleep habits to achieve healthier rest. Quitting the pacifier can be tough, but with the right timing, pace, comforts, and praise, binky-free sleep is possible.

For parents of toddlers who are searching for further assistance with toddler-specific issues, such as ending co-sleeping or trading naps for quiet time, Your Sleeping Baby has plenty of timely resources to lessen the stress and increase success! Toddlers do so well with positive sleep routines in their lives, and we can personalize a plan to ensure that yours thrives.

Reach out for a consultation today, and in the meantime, I wish you the best of luck with weaning from the pacifier!

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