When I was pregnant with my son, I told myself he would not need to use a pacifier. Although there are benefits to using one in infancy, I was worried that the weaning process would be difficult, that he would become too attached to it, or that it would affect his speech and language skills.
Just a few short weeks into new motherhood, my son cried all the time. All my best-laid plans went out the window! We were just a household who needed some sleep! So in the end, my son did end up using a pacifier for about a year. It gave me a new perspective and confirmed for me that sometimes motherhood is just about survival!
Pacifiers are perfectly appropriate for infants during their first year of life. They can also make life a lot easier on parents at first and there is positive research to support the reduction of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). There are many pros to pacifier use with infants, but also risks with prolonged use. Prolonged pacifier use can lead to increased middle ear infections and dental problems long term, along with an increased risk of speech and language delays. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends weaning from a pacifier by 12 months of age. This will help decrease the risk of recurrent ear infections and any dental/jaw changes. These are both risk factors that can contribute to future speech and language delays.
A huge growth in language development occurs in children around 15-18 months. If a child has recurrent middle ear infections from prolonged pacifier use, it can cause temporary hearing loss that can affect a child’s ability to hear language and speech sounds properly. Children are also starting to imitate a lot of the language we model at this age. A pacifier may prevent this and the child may have missed opportunities to use language or communicate.
When my son was around a year, he had his first ear infection, so we started the process of weaning him from his pacifier, and man, was I nervous! We had slowly transitioned to using it only at bedtime and naptime a few months before, but I was terrified to make any changes to his bedtime and nap routines. So, we went in with a plan to introduce a new comfort item to transition. We first tackled weaning from naptime and introduced a small lovey as his new comfort item. This was helpful, and after a few naps, he took to the lovey as his new naptime comfort. After a week of successful naps, we decided to try the lovey during bedtime. The first night was not great, and I was so close to throwing in the towel, but by the second night he was able to use the lovey to soothe himself just like he had been doing at naptime! Success!
The slow transition and the addition of a comfort item worked well for our family, but I know many people have removed the pacifier cold turkey and that worked well for them. No matter what method you choose, just remember you are doing great! That pacifier will be gone before you know it, even if it does not feel that way!