Pacifier Use – When do you stop?

This question has popped up more and more over the last five to ten years as additional research has been released. Many new parents are wondering, “When should I take away their pacifier?” 

Pacifiers fulfill the need of a new baby’s innate sucking instinct. For older children, they offer a sense of security and comfort. In both scenarios, it is important to understand the possible effects of pacifier use.  

A pacifier can provide many benefits for your child. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, pacifiers may lower the risk of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome, especially when used while sleeping. It can provide a sense of comfort during painful situations such as blood draws or shots. In premature babies, sucking on a pacifier has been associated with increased success with bottle feedings and possibly shorter hospital stays.  

It is suggested that pacifiers have the most success when used in infants 6 months and younger. In an article, The Impact of Prolonged Pacifier Use on Speech Articulation:  A Preliminary Investigation, prolonged use of a pacifier (routine use after 18 months of age) led to various dental issues involving bite, articulation problems due to some of these dental issues, and increased otitis media (ear infections). In addition, the pacifier can decrease their ability to freely babble and produce vocal play, leading to possible expressive language delays.  

A great speech and language therapy blog, “Heather’s Speech Therapy,” provides some wonderful tips for weaning your child off their pacifier.  

  • Keep the pacifier out of sight. Your child is less likely to think he/she needs it if they forget about it or can’t see it. 
  • Begin by reducing the amount of time the child can have it, by finding certain times that the pacifier is allowed. Suggested times include nap time or bedtime. It doesn’t have to be taken away completely right away; it can be gradual. 
  • Stay consistent and don’t give in. Your child may try to push you for it, but be consistent. 
  • Find other things that can provide a sense of comfort and security. A favorite toy or cuddles. Nothing can be substituted for nurturing. 

Many opinions exist regarding pacifier use, and the optimal age to “stop” using them really doesn’t exist. However, the connections between prolonged pacifier use and increased dental problems, speech/language issues, and/or ear infections have been noted. Because of this, it ultimately is up to the family to decide what is best for their child. If you have specific concerns, make sure to reach out to your pediatrician, dentist, or speech language pathologist! 

Shannon Greenlee, M.A., CCC-SLP 

References: 

  • Shotts, L., McDaniel, M., Neeley, R. (2008). The impact of prolonged pacifier use on speech articulation:  A preliminary investigation. Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders(35), 72–75.