Your baby loves his pacifier and rightly so. It’s soothing and satisfies his need to suck on something. But you’ve heard that using a pacifier can have negative effects. Should your baby use a pacifier? And when should he be weaned off of it? Read on to find out more about pacifier use and how old is too old for a pacifier.
How old is too old for a pacifier?
Recommendations vary on when to end pacifier use. It’s generally recommended to wean pacifier use by 24 months old. After this age, pacifier use can lead to tooth and jaw misalignment and palatal changes that can have lasting effects on oral and speech function.
In the following sections, we will explore why people start giving their child a pacifier, why they choose to keep giving their child a pacifier past the recommended age, the pros and cons of using a pacifier, and ways to wean a child off his pacifier.
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What are the benefits of using a pacifier?
1. Pacifiers are soothing
Babies have a strong suck reflex that starts in the womb. This natural reflex helps them prepare for being fed once out of the womb but has other physiological benefits too such as lowering the heart rate and relieving stress.
New babies often engage in non-nutritive sucking using items such as a pacifier or a finger as a calming measure. Pacifiers allow babies to self-soothe when someone is not there to soothe them.
2. Reduce the risk of SIDS
Pacifiers can also help your infant fall asleep as well as help them stay asleep for longer. Giving your baby a pacifier may actually reduce their risk of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, cutting the risk by more than half.
Not only that, but a pacifier may also prevent your baby from rolling onto their stomach, which is considered an unsafe position for sleep.
Also, the pacifier can prevent your baby’s face from getting too close to the mattress, a pillow, or blanket, reducing the risk of suffocation.
Other research suggests that sucking on a pacifier might positively affect the development of nerve reflexes and their breathing muscles.
3. Pacifiers and pain reduction
According to several studies done by the American Academy of Pediatrics, pacifiers provide a wonderful way to reduce pain and anxiety in infants younger than 6 months.
Studies have shown that babies cope better with minor procedures such as injections or having blood drawn while they are sucking on a pacifier.
Pacifiers may soothe your infant’s anxiety when traveling. If you are flying, pacifier use can reduce or prevent air pain from air pressure changes.
Adults and older children can simulate chewing or yawning to equalize the pressure in their ears but babies need a pacifier to help them do this.
What are the cons of using a pacifier?
There are a few negative effects associated with using pacifiers. These risks worsen as your child ages.
1. Complications with breastfeeding
Pacifiers may interfere with breastfeeding. Therefore, it’s recommended to wait at least 4 weeks after birth before introducing a pacifier until your baby establishes a good feeding routine.
It’s recommended to wait even longer if your baby has difficulty latching on properly or is not feeding well regularly because the baby can come to prefer the pacifier to nutritive sources.
2. Middle ear infection
A few studies have found that pacifier use can increase the risk of ear infections in infants over six months old. This is caused by sucking nasal fluid back into the middle ear or increased Eustachian tube opening allowing for fluid to pass into the middle ear.
3. Pacifier dependency
Your child may become dependent on his or her pacifier when feeling anxious or uncomfortable and therefore have difficulties letting it go and may not be able to self-soothe without it.
If your child wakes up and cries every time the pacifier falls out when he’s sleeping, he’ll get less sleep and so will you. After the age of 6 months, pacifier dependency can become a habit that is much more difficult to break later when your child is older.
4. Dental problems
Prolonged pacifier use can lead to multiple dental problems:
- baby teeth can grow misaligned
- jaw misalignment
- changes to the shape of the roof of the mouth
Jaw changes can lead to protrusion of the front teeth even of later-growing adult teeth. This can cause an open bite that may require orthodontic treatments such as the use of braces later on.
When should you start pacifier weaning?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends ceasing pacifier use by age 3 years. The use of pacifiers after 24 months of age may result in starting to see some of the dental issues mentioned above, but they can still self-correct. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if pacifier use goes on beyond 3 years old or you have any concerns about weaning the pacifier.
How do I wean my child off the pacifier?
There are several ways to wean your child off the pacifier. Take a look at several below.
1. The cold turkey method
The cold turkey method is a quick and strict end to pacifier use. It’s a good idea to let your child know that he won’t be using the pacifier anymore. You can send the pacifier away with the binky fairy similar to the tooth fairy.
You’ll have to deal with the tantrums and be strong to not give in when your child cries and screams for it. This process can take many days and be extremely hard on both you and your child.
2. The slow and steady approach
This method promotes slowly weaning your child off his pacifier. Give the pacifier at certain times of the day on a schedule like at nap time and bedtime. You have to be consistent about when the pacifier is provided and this method is slower than going cold turkey, but it tends to be gentler on your child and you. You’ll be less likely to deal with tantrums and your child will be happier too.
3. Limit pacifier use to specific times and places
Provide your child the pacifier only at specific times and in specific places such as in the crib or at bedtime. Your child may come to want it only at those times or in those situations. This can desensitize your child to the pacifier and reduce the emotional attachment to it.
4. Frida paci weaning system
The Frida paci weaning system is a 5-step system in which you provide your child a pacifier that is progressively shorter. This makes the pacifier less satisfying so your child is less likely to want it. Many reviewers reported how helpful this was to ending the binky habit. You also don’t have to cut the pacifier yourself, which can leave uncomfortable edges at the end of the pacifier.
5. Offer substitutions instead of the pacifier
Substituting your child’s pacifier with another desirable object like a toy or blanket. This will help your toddler learn to self-soothe in more age-appropriate ways.
Why do some parents use pacifiers past the recommended age?
Several years ago, Suri Cruise, the child of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, was pictured with a baby pacifier in their mouth at almost 5 years old. The public commented extensively on her use of a pacifier and her parents’ parenting.
The truth is that your child may not be ready to wean at the recommended age. He may not be ready to give up the beloved pacifier for reasons such as a new baby in the home, a change in daycares, or other life changes that can be disruptive to young children. You know your child’s needs best, so it’s a parent’s decision on when to kick the pacifier habit.
Pacifier use is accepted for babies from 4 weeks old as long as they have established a good feeding routine. From there, the age of pacifier weaning varies from as early as 6 months to 1 year to several years old. Some medical and dental professionals recommend weaning pacifier use by 24 months and certainly by 3 years of age, after which your child may experience changes that can have harmful effects on speech and dental development later in life. Talk to a medical professional if your child uses the pacifier past 3 years of age or you have difficulty weaning your child from the pacifier.