I’m commonly asked for help and advice surrounding pacifiers (I’ll use this term as this is the most used around the world). Pacifiers can be a Godsend to some parents and a nightmare to others.
If you’re currently pregnant and reading, my advice in general would be to try to avoid using a pacifier if possible, but if you do use one then to try to wean your baby from it by six months of age if possible. This avoids having to specifically use some form of weaning as the child gets older. Pre six months pacifiers can work well to improve the sleep of fractious babies, particularly the initial falling to sleep phase. Post six months I find that they often become increasingly problematic when it comes to sleep and are the cause of many sleep issues. If the baby can keep the pacifier in their mouth all night, or they are able to find it and – most importantly – put it back in themselves without parental help as soon as they wake, then sleep is usually not negatively affected, in fact it can be really helped. In reality however these two points rarely apply to most babies, or even toddlers.
My tips to wean from the pacifier are as follows:
1. Only ever give a pacifier to your child if they are very upset and you cannot calm them down any other way (including feeding). If they are calm do not offer it to them. Once the baby (or toddler) is calm remove the pacifier ASAP.
2. Once you have followed point one for a week or two and your child has become accustomed to settling with other methods, select either days or nights to wean the pacifier. I would always suggest starting with daytime naps initially as this is usually easier than nighttime and you will usually be less tired and desperate too.
3. At the selected sleep time allow your child to have the pacifier if they are crying and not settling in any other way. Once your child has been asleep for ten minutes gently remove the pacifier from their mouth. If they start to cry reinsert it and try again in another 10 minutes.
4. Once you are able to remove the pacifier successfully after 10 minutes (which may take several days), move on to removing it after five minutes.
5. Once step four goes well, try to remove the pacifier after a minute or two of your child falling asleep.
6. Once step five goes well, aim to remove the pacifier at the point between your baby relaxing deeply and falling asleep.
7. Once your have achieved point six for a couple of days you should be able to soothe your child to sleep without the pacifier.
Remember – you are doing these steps for either daytime naps OR night sleep, not both, initially.
Once you have successfully removed the pacifier for naps, progress onto following the same steps for night sleep (following the points for each waking).
Usually it is possible to wean from the pacifier gently and completely over a four week period. At this point remove all pacifiers from your house and change bag so as not to confuse or upset your child if he or she sees them.
p.s: It is always good to introduce other cues to help your child to calm, particularly if you are removing one. Here I would suggest calm, rhythmical music, such as my Gentle Sleep Music, a calming scent in the room, such as lavender, and using a small very soft and sensory blanket to hold around or against the baby. I would also softly speak key words repeatedly while the child falls asleep (e.g “close your eyes little sleepyhead, it’s time for sleep and time for bed”).
Remember though, if the pacifier is not negatively affecting your child’s sleep, dental and speech issues aside, I see no reason to rush weaning. Some children really do benefit from the extra comfort that they provide for longer.