The Why, When, and How of Pacifier Weaning

Oh the pacifier. As parents, we seem to have a love/hate relationship with the silicone soother. At the start of my parenting journey, I was not a fan. But then…I gave in and popped one into my newborn son’s mouth. And you know what? It worked.

I still harbored some negative feelings about that plastic thing in his mouth and was judicious about relegating it to nap and bedtime only. That blue plastic paci was just the thing he needed for naps and bedtime. I started to soften and didn’t mind it so much.

Enter child number two and I was much more amenable to the idea of the paci. In fact, I already had two pink pacis waiting for her before she even made her grand entrance!

I’ve got quite the paci lover now and to tell you the truth, I’m quite fond of it myself. However, the time is drawing near for both of us to say good-bye to our beloved paci.

So, how do you know? When, why, and how should we wean our tots from the paci?

Granted there are no hard and fast rules, such is parenting. There are sound recommendations though, and they are worth knowing so that you can make the best possible decision for your own child.

Let’s start with the why…Why should I wean my child off his beloved paci?

  • If your child is prone to recurrent ear infections, the pacifier could be one of the culprits. In these cases, I do strongly recommend paci weaning, regardless of your child’s age.
  • Your child is over the age of two and you have noticed speech impairment. Vigorous and persistent pacifier use can interfere with speech development.
  • Your child is showing you signs that she is ready. Chewing on the pacifier and spitting it out shortly after popping it in could be signs she is ready to break her binky habit. When my son was two, he bit holes in his paci. I told him they were broken now and we had to throw them away. He did it himself and has never looked back.
  • Your child is over the age of 4 and starting to lose her baby teeth. Persistent paci use beyond this age can certainly lead to permanent tooth and jaw misalignment.

This leads us to the when…When should I start the weaning process?

  • Ideally, your toddler will have kicked the paci to the curb by age two. I say ideally, because we all know how that goes.
  • After the age of two, children really start to form a strong attachment to the paci. Ahem, I know this all too well.
  • If your child is still enamored by her paci at the age of 4, it really is time to step in and help her find ways to break her pacifier habit.

Once you’ve decided the days of the binky have come to an end, how exactly are you going to do it?

How should I wean my child from the pacifier?

  • The route you decide to take will depend on both the age and temperament of your child.
  • Some choose to go cold turkey. I think this works better for babies and toddlers less than two years old. It also depends on how committed your baby or toddler is to the paci. Some seem to forget about it right away…others? Not so much.
  • Discuss saying good-bye to the binky with your child. Children two and older can certainly understand being a “big boy” and that the time is coming. Involve him in the process. Come up with a plan together.
  • Start by restricting pacifier use to nap and bedtimes before getting rid of it altogether. I think this is a great way to start weaning an avid pacifier addict.
  • Choose a night that the pacifier fairy will make a visit. Help your child write a note to the fairy, gather up all her binkies, and leave them for the fairy. She will be gifted with a sweet surprise in exchange for being such a big girl.
  • Have her “pay” for a special toy or book with her pacifiers.
  • Is it close to Christmas time? Have her leave them for Santa, and she will receive a special gift in return. You can tell her Santa will be bringing them to babies who need them.
  • Read books to her about growing up and letting go of the pacifier.

Whatever strategy you choose, keep in mind that your child is letting go of a bona fide symbol of comfort. Be gentle but consistent. Involve her in the process. Let her have her say. Congratulate her for being such a big girl. While you’re at it, congratulate yourself too…for saying good-bye to a piece of her babyhood.

I know I will likely shed a tear or two.

What tips do you have for pacifier weaning? When did your child say good-bye to his beloved paci?

**Do you have a parenting or child health related question? If so, e-mail me at mommamd4two(at)aol(dot)com so I can answer and feature it on my Wednesday Ask Dr.Mom series.**

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14 Responses to The Why, When, and How of Pacifier Weaning
  1. Liz
    April 27, 2011 | 10:45 am

    We've had a few baby giraffes here in Memphis the past couple years. I know a few friends who "left" them for the baby giraffes at the side of the zoo exhibit!

  2. Pilar
    April 27, 2011 | 11:05 am

    Congratulations, Melissa,
    This month is the Anniversary of the birth of your wonderfully successful Blog.

  3. Jessica
    April 27, 2011 | 11:31 am

    I didn't use a pacifier with my first, but for my second, well, I am thinking about giving a try. My first began as a thumb sucker at 3 months and is still at it at 15 months. I keep being told now that if I had given her a pacifier, I would have had an easier time in getting her to wean from it versus the thumb. Any truth to that?

  4. Melissa (Confessions of a Dr. Mom)
    April 27, 2011 | 3:04 pm

    @Jessica: thumb or paci…babies have an innate need to suck. The only thing "easier" about the paci is you can actually take it away, her thumb will always be there. But like everything, there are pros and cons. Enjoy your thumb sucking toddler, she will most likely give it up on her own volition…when she is ready. I wrote a post devoted to thumb sucking, called "Thumbs Up", it might help :)

  5. Barbara Manatee
    April 27, 2011 | 6:29 pm

    I never had a strong opinion on whether to let them use a Paci or not but it was obvious early on that my twins both were 'suckers' (ha!). My son took to his thumb while my daughter took a paci. We were relieved that we were able to take the Paci away relatively easily when she turned 1. We were then worried that her brother would never give up his thumb. Interestingly, last winter, we were putting them to bed one night and realized he didn't stick his thumb in his mouth like he always did…and we realized that neither of us had seen him do it in a while. He'd stopped sucking his thumb all on his own and we hadn't even realized it!

    Oddly, part of me was a bit sad – like it was a milestone in his growing up. He always looked so cute and sweet with his thumb and blankie. But we knew it was for the better.

    When we took my daughter's Paci away, she just switched to sucking the tags on her blankie. She was still doing it this past winter…until the Dentist asked her about it. Amazingly, with his words, she stopped cold turkey. It was hard – she refused to even sleep with her blankie the first few days – like she couldn't stand to be tempted. But she did it! She has some sensory issues and oral was definitely one of them!

    *~*~*~*~*~*
    April is Autism Awareness Month. I'm dedicating my blog all month to Autism.

  6. Making It Work Mom
    April 27, 2011 | 6:58 pm

    We did the paci Fairy twice with my oldest and youngest (my son didn't need it) and it worked prfectly both times. We did it on their 3rd birthdays and never looked back and they were both Hard Core.

  7. Cheryl D.
    April 27, 2011 | 7:47 pm

    My daughter was more of a thumb girl. It's hard to get rid of that! ;P

  8. Katherine
    April 27, 2011 | 8:48 pm

    I'm a big fan of pacifiers. Because sometimes, everyone just needs to sleep, and this worked well. Both our boys weaned off them fairly well: we talked to them about getting bigger, and had them throw them away themselves. That way, there was no feeling like we had taken them away.

  9. Stefanie
    April 28, 2011 | 7:49 am

    These are great tips! …I love the paci-fairy :)

    btw – my niece was hard-core. My sister cut a small hole in the bottom of it. My niece popped it in her mouth, sucked on it a few seconds and then took it out, tossed it on the floor and said very loudly "bwoke"! After trying a couple of others she got bored and looked for something else. Apparently the paci lost its appeal :)

  10. @Handtevy
    April 28, 2011 | 8:08 am

    Melissa,
    Great advice! One thing I see in the ER is that parents use the infant pacifier for much too long. It's the green one that is very firm. Parents need to realize that they need to switch over to an orthodontic pacifier before the teeth start erupting to prevent delays and/or dental deformities. Like most parents, we loved that particular pacifier for our two boys but they landed in the trash after a few months. Love the blog! Keep up the great work.

  11. Jessica
    April 28, 2011 | 7:03 pm

    I have one more to wean and he will be two in June so his pacifier days are numbered. The last one just handed me his one day and that was it but I'm thinking the youngest is not going to be that easy. The paci-fairy is definitely going to have to visit.

  12. Hello! I'm Kate.
    April 29, 2011 | 6:06 am

    Fortunately, I didn't have to wean my kiddo off the pacifier. It started teething & spit it right out & never took it again. I hope I'll be as lucky with the next one! :)

  13. Expat Doctor Mom
    April 30, 2011 | 1:35 am

    Love hearing the paci tips from another doctor mom! Thanks so much!

    We weaned our son at 2 3/4 yrs. We put his pacifiers in a box we mailed to Santa Claus and in return he got a toy he wanted. It worked like a charm during the day. At night, it was a tough transition for a few nights. We choose this age as his teeth seemed to have shifted at an angle which was in accordance to how he held the paci in his mouth. Once the paci was gone, it took 1 month for his teeth to re-align.

    With our daughter, she is soon 3, we have been prepping her for the wean but have hit numerous changes in her life: a move, an international trip, a change in class, a broken leg, a hospitalization… so the wean has been forever delayed.

    Couldn't agree with you more that after 2 years of age, your child gets even more attached.

    Will continue to have dialogue with her and hopefully wean soon!

    Looking forward to your next post!
    Rajka

  14. Amber
    January 6, 2013 | 12:56 pm

    Fun reading the strings. My son was so attached to his pacifier that it started to become a real problem. We could not go anywhere without making sure that we had a pacifier in hand. My friend absolutely raved about the bye bye binky method so we decided to give it a try (she found it at http://www.bye-bye-binky.com ). All I can say is WOW, worked beautifully for my son with no tantrums, not even one! Super easy and four days later he had no interest in his binky. We really were amazed… highly recommended… Amber

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