When Should a Baby Stop Using a Pacifier?

Pacifiers are a magic charm for crying babies. The primary objective of a pacifier is to calm the baby during non-feeding periods.

But pacifiers are good to use until a specific age. Usually, pacifiers become less helpful for babies above six months of age.

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Prolonged use of a pacifier after six months may lead to the development of sucking habit. It may also make it difficult for the child to quit the use of pacifiers.

Research studies have shown that 6-12 months of age is a reasonable time to wean the child from using a pacifier. However, some children continue this habit up until the age of two years and then quit using pacifiers by themselves.

Although pacifiers do not cause any permanent damage to the teeth, they do have other effects on the child’s development.

Speech development is one of the prime concerns in such children. Additionally, prolonged use of a pacifier is the main culprit for the development of thumb sucking habit.

This article will cover all the details about pacifier and its use with particular emphasis on the time duration to use a pacifier.

What is a pacifier?

Pacifier is a plastic, rubber or silicone nipple that is usually given to an infant to suck upon. Typically, a pacifier contains a teat, mouth shield, and a handle. The handle and the mouth shield are large enough to prevent accidental choking or swallowing. (1)

There are several types and brands of pacifiers available in the market. Check the specifications like size, shape, and material before purchasing the safest pacifier for your child.

What is the purpose of a pacifier?

The primary purpose of a pacifier is to relax a child during the non-feeding period while satisfying the sucking reflex. Other uses may include –

  • Temporary distraction – pacifiers are great to use especially while getting shots or blood test of the baby
  • Pacifiers allow the baby to settle down and helps the baby fall asleep
  • While traveling in an airplane, sucking on the pacifier helps to prevent ear pain due to air pressure changes and soothes the baby
  • Studies have proved that sucking on a pacifier while sleeping protects the baby from sudden infant death syndrome (2)

Although pacifier is portable and easy to use, it is recommended to start using a pacifier after 3-4 weeks of breastfeeding. Babies get accustomed to sucking and breastfeeding during this time. Additionally, they can differentiate between feeding breast and pacifier nipple.

How to select the best pacifier for your child?

While selecting a pacifier to keep the following points in mind –

  • Choose a one-piece pacifier
  • The nipple must be made of a soft material so that it can be washed easily
  • The mouth shield must be at least 1 – 2 inches wide and have holes to allow ventilation. Small pacifiers can easily choke the baby

What is the appropriate age to stop using a pacifier?

The Journal of Pediatric Nursing has stated that pacifiers do not cause any permanent damage to the mouth of a child if he discontinues the use before 36 months of age. (3)

Prolonged use of pacifier especially beyond two years of age, may interfere with tooth development and speech impairment of the child.

What is the disadvantage of using a pacifier?

As useful as pacifiers may be for the baby and the parents, there are some pitfalls as well. Some of the disadvantages of using pacifier may be –

  • Pacifiers may interfere with breastfeeding for babies who are sensitive to differentiate between the two. (4)
  • Babies often get dependent on the pacifier, especially while sleeping. One of the signs may be crying of the baby when the pacifier falls out.
  • Pacifiers have known to causes middle ear infection. However, the rates of developing a middle ear infection are in less in infants between the age of one to six months.
  • Prolonged dependence on a pacifier may cause emotional attachment of the child.
  • Inability to wean from the use of pacifier even at a later age may interfere with the development of permanent teeth and affect the speech.

Tips for discontinuing the use of a pacifier

It is better to follow a gradual process of discontinuation. Mostly, parents try to limit the use of a pacifier to the time of sleep. This process may require a little bit of planning and patience.

Another effective method involves the use of multiple series of techniques to stop the child from using pacifier frequently.

The first step is to communicate with the child and keep reminding him about a fixed day when the pacifier will be taken away. Advance notice allows the child to prepare for the change and take control of the situation.

If your child is still struggling to discontinue the use of a pacifier, consult the nearest dentist for help and advice.

Take away message

Pacifiers are the best means to relax the baby and the parents while not feeding him. A tiny pacifier consists of a soft nipple that the child sucks on.

Additionally, a mouthpiece and the handle protects the child from accidental choking or swallowing of the pacifier.

As useful and soothing a pacifier may be for the child, prolonged use of it may have equal potential side effects on the development of the child.

Long term use of a pacifier may cause psychological dependency, interference in the development of mouth and speech impairment.

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Monitoring the time of use is essential for every parent to allow proper development of the child. Usually, the best time to wean a child from the use of a pacifier is around six to twelve months.

Some children may continue the use of pacifier up until two years of age and then discontinue it automatically. However, consult a dentist if you feel your child is not able to stop the use of a pacifier.

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