Did you know that using a pacifier for too long could negatively affect your little one’s mouth and teeth? Learn when your child should give up the pacifier for a healthy, straight smile, and tips for making the transition off the pacifier easier.
When to get rid of the pacifier?
Using a pacifier at naps and at night, through age one, can actually help reduce your baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
But after your little one's first birthday, the pacifier simply becomes a soother and source of pleasure.
And the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) advises that continuing to suck the pacifier for too long will do more harm than good when it comes to your baby's mouth.
Any "non-nutritive sucking" (sucking to soothe, and not to eat or drink), like thumb-sucking and using a pacifier, can negatively affect the teeth and mouth if not stopped early enough.
It could cause teeth to become crooked or not come in properly, or could cause your child to develop bite problems.
“If a child repeatedly sucks on a finger, pacifier or other object over long periods of time, the upper front teeth may tip outward or not come in properly. Other changes in tooth position and jaw alignment also may occur. Some oral changes caused by sucking habits continue even after the habit stops. Prolonged sucking can create crooked teeth or bite problems.” --- AAPD
Given this, says the AAPD, it's best to finish weaning your child off the pacifier by age 3, if they haven’t already given up the pacifier on their own.
(Yes, the pacifier's better than thumb-sucking, says the AAPD --- but that's only because you can take away a pacifier, while your little one will always have their thumb around.)
“The earlier a sucking habit is stopped, the less chance the habit will lead to orthodontic problems.” --- AAPD
Many speech pathologists warn that prolonged pacifier use can also negatively affect your child’s speech development.
So, say goodbye to the pacifier before your little one’s third birthday.
If you’re thinking about a gradual weaning, it might even be best to limit pacifier use starting at age 2 (or even age 1), prior to removing it altogether at some point before your child turns 3.
Whenever you decide to wean off the pacifier, be sure your little one is not stressed about new surroundings. Your little one won't be as willing to give up their "soother" when they feel like they need it most. That means not weaning if your little one has started at a new day care, you've just welcomed a new sibling, or you're moving to a new house.
You might decide to make the third birthday (or even the 2 ½ year old mark) the “no more pacis” day, to associate giving up the pacifier with becoming a big boy or girl. This way, it’s easier to lead up to the day if you choose.
Cold turkey vs. Gradually: Which method to choose?
Some parents use the "cold turkey" method of getting rid of the pacifier right away.
Other parents wean their little one off the pacifier gradually.
What's important is that you choose the method that works best for you and your child.
Here are some tips for each:
- Give advance warning, if your child would benefit.
- Lead up to the day your little one will become a "big boy" or "big girl" with a calendar.
- Mark the “no pacis” day with exciting stickers (and a picture of any reward they might be getting for giving up the pacifier.) Let them cross off the days.
- When the day comes (even if you didn't tell them in advance), explain to your child that they are a big boy or girl who does not need pacifiers.
- Then, take the pacifiers away for good from that point forward--- and stand your ground.
- Consider cutting a pacifier when your child is not looking. Then, carefully show it to your child, say it was "broken because it got old," and throw it away.
- NEVER give your little one a cut or pierced pacifier to suck as a weaning method. Small pieces of the pacifier could cause a choking hazard!
- Try "forgetting" the pacifier during a longer car ride, or “losing” the pacifier at home and saying you “can’t find it.”
- Distract your child with exciting toys to help them forget about the pacifier.
- You can also use reading, activities, healthy snacks, or other distractions.
- Don't be surprised if "cold turkey" leads to some crying, and possibly sleepless nights. Use the strategies we'll cover below to make weaning a more pleasant experience for you and your child.
For more on weaning off the pacifier "cold turkey," watch this video from Sleep Sense:
- Let your little one know that they are a big boy or girl who does not need pacifiers.
- Try gradually limiting the times and places that your little one can have the pacifier (say, only at home, then only in certain rooms, then only at bedtimes and naps, then only at bedtime, then not at all).
- Be firm with the limits: “We can’t have binky here. Binky lives in your room. If you want binky, you need to go to your room.”
- As Dr. Harvey Karp at Happiest Baby suggests, you could also use a timer if your little one asks for a pacifier when it’s not bedtime or naptime.
- Explain that your little one will have to wait until the timer rings to have the pacifier. Use distractions as needed. (“You have to wait for 'Mr. Bell' to tell us you can have your paci! Do you want to read, or play with your dolly while we wait?”)
- Praise your child for going without the pacifier, and lengthen the “pacifier-free” times as they get used to going without.
- Once your little one gets well accustomed to “pacifier-free” times, start limiting the pacifier even more (to just naps and bed).
- Or, give your little one some control and positive reinforcement.
- Explain that big boys and girls don't need pacifiers.
- Praise them by saying "You're such a big boy/girl" and "I'm proud of you!" when they choose not to suck on the pacifier.
- Give them stickers or favorite healthy snacks as little rewards.
- You could also make a chart --- and every time they choose not to use the pacifier, give them a sticker. Give them a reward when they get enough stickers.
- Eventually, the goal is that your little one will discover they don't need the pacifier.
Strategies for getting rid of the pacifier
When it's time to give up the pacifier for good:
- Read books about characters who give up the pacifier and become "big girls" or "big boys."
- Try the book "Bye Bye Binky: Big Kid Power!"
- Or, try sharing the Bye Bye Binky song from Sesame Street, where Elmo gives up his "binky.”
- Let your child "trade" the pacifiers for an exciting new toy of their choice at the store.
- You can even put the clean pacifiers in a Ziploc bag and hand the bag to the cashier. Explain that your child is "trading in" the pacifiers for the toy. Then, stealthily ask the cashier to throw the bag in the trash.
- Alternatively, have them trade the pacifiers for a fun one-on-one day out, or a favorite "big boy/girl" meal. The reward doesn't need to be expensive!
- You could also have your child put the pacifiers out for the "paci fairy," so "the fairy can take the pacis to babies who need them." Then, replace the pacifiers with a toy while they're sleeping. Tell them, "Look what the fairy left!"
- Or, make a big deal out of hunting for all the pacifiers, putting them in a box, and "sending" them to a little baby who needs them, because pacifiers are for babies (not "big boys" and "big girls.")
- If you know a family with a new baby, you can even say that you're mailing the pacifiers to them --- and mail the box for real, if the baby's parents say it's ok.
- Replace the pacifier with a stuffed animal. Explain that when they're missing their pacifier, they can give the stuffed animal a hug.
- Take your child to Build-A-Bear and explain that they're going to stuff the pacifiers into the stuffed animal you'll be making. Many Build-A-Bear locations are familiar with this, and the kind staff members will gladly help your little one put clean "pacis" inside a stuffed animal.
- You could also use any other toy that you can stuff with pacifiers and sew at home, such as the Binka Bear or a DIY stuffed animal kit.
- Or, use the "paci fairy" strategy, and leave a new stuffed animal as the new comfort object.
- Have your little one bury the pacifier in the garden, like a time capsule. You could tell them that it will bloom into flowers after it rains (and then plant flowers or seeds in the spot when your little one isn't looking).
- Introduce fun new ways to keep their mouth busy, that they can't do with a pacifier. For example, blow bubbles, blow on a pinwheel, make funny faces, give them crazy straws to sip water or milk with, or sing fun songs.
- Throw a "big boy" or "big girl" party at home to celebrate the milestone of "no more pacis!" Make it exciting, with party hats, streamers, and balloons.
What if your little one struggles during pacifier weaning?
- Figure out what they really want or need instead of the pacifier, then satisfy the real need.
- Are they hungry or thirsty? Do they need a diaper change? Or do they want comfort?
- If comfort's what they need, hold them as you read or sing to them.
- They might also need a distraction, so try engaging them with toys or activities.
- Out of sight, out of mind --- make sure all pacifiers are hidden from your child and out of reach (even better if the pacifiers are thrown away or given away).
- If your child asks where the pacifier is, say you can't find it. (Or, remind them the pacifiers were given away, if that applies).
- Encourage them to use a stuffed animal or blanket as a soother (“How about you hold teddy?”).
- Redirect their attention off the pacifier with exciting toys --- either new ones, or ones that they enjoy but that are hidden and only brought out for these "special" times.
- Use positive reinforcement: Praise them by saying "You're such a big boy/girl" and "I'm proud of you!" for not using the pacifier.
- You could even try “gossiping” to family members (or stuffed animals) about how your child is not using the pacifier (“--- is such a big boy/girl! He/she isn’t using the binky!”)
- Remember that, even though weaning can be stressful for you both, your child will stop being fixated on the pacifier before you know it. Be patient, and be kind to yourself.
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