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The Pacifier - Should it Stay or Should it Go?

A baby with a pacifier hanging out of his mouth is absolutely the cutest thing ever! What is not the cutest thing ever is when your child wakes multiple times throughout the night because the pacifier fell out and he can’t cope without it!

Let’s examine why the pacifier can be an important tool in the newborn stage, but why keeping it around too long can wreak havoc on sleep.

Babies are born with a non-nutritive need to suck. This means that the sucking motion calms them – which is very important, especially during the first three months of life.

The first three months of life is what Snoo developer, and Pediatrician, Dr. Harvey Karp coined “the fourth trimester.” Karp believes, and as a sleep coach I concur, the fourth trimester is a time when babies need the sensations of the womb to keep them content outside of the womb: sucking, swaddling, swinging, shushing, side/stomach position.

After about three or four months, some babies will naturally dismiss the pacifier, while others develop a very strong attachment to it, especially when it comes to sleep.

So how do parents effectively utilize the pacifier to help calm their baby, but also not create a baby overly dependent on it? Here are some tips.

  • Focus pacifier use on daytime fussy situations. When putting your infant down to sleep, don’t offer it initially - give your baby a few minutes to fall asleep without it. Try other methods of soothing your baby first such as the use of a sound machine, or gently rocking your baby with your hand while he’s lying in the crib or basinet. If he’s still not having it, go ahead and offer the pacifier.

  • If baby spits the pacifier out several minutes later, remove it. Do not force the pacifier back in your baby’s mouth. You want your baby to sleep as long as possible without "needing" something in his mouth. Most importantly, you want your baby to fall asleep without something in his mouth.

  • If your baby is sleeping and his grip on the paci is slightly loose, remove it, and allow him to finish out his nap or night sleep without it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping the pacifier until baby is six months old. After that, I suggest parents get rid of it cold turkey. It is true that some babies CAN sleep through the night with a pacifier, but that is typically not until the child is at least eight months old and can find the pacifier in the crib and replace it by himself.

Even if baby can replace the pacifier on his own, he still has a “job” to do several times throughout the night, interrupting contiguous nighttime sleep. It’s also much easier to take the pacifier away at six months, than it is when your child is a toddler with all the emotions, tantrums and attachments of a toddler brain!

Most dentists and pediatricians recommend taking the pacifier away sometime between age one and two, so knowing eventually you’ll need to do so, my recommendation is do it early and save yourself, and your baby, a lot of sleepless nights!

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