If you’re looking for alternatives to pacifiers for your baby or toddler, you’ve come to the right place. There are a few different options available, and we’ll explore them all in this article.
Whether you’re looking for something more natural or just want to try something new, there’s sure to be an option here that’s right for you.
Pacifiers are arguably one of the most controversial aspects of parenthood. They tend to produce relatively extreme opinions amongst parents.
Some parents love pacifiers and utilize them often as a supportive resource for their baby, and others avoid using them at all costs.
There seems to be an “all-or-nothing” attitude when it comes to pacifiers, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The most important thing for parents, regarding any issue in parenting, is to be informed.
Pacifier Alternatives For Littles: Making an Informed Decision
The key to navigating pacifier-related decisions is being informed of the pros and cons, as well as alternative options, in order to discern the right course of action for your child.
When a parent is accurately informed of both benefits and drawbacks, they’re able to make the best decisions possible for their child. In order to make an informed decision, it is important to know the pros and cons, long-term impacts, and alternatives to pacifiers.
We hope that this article equips you with multifaceted, helpful information so you can determine your steps forward when it comes to pacifier use and/or the pacifier weaning process.
Pros of Pacifier Use
Despite the scrutiny surrounding pacifiers, there are actually many pros to pacifier use.
- Pacifiers assist in a child’s self-soothing process and provide comfort to them as they navigate their many new emotions.
- They can also help with pain relief, whether the pain comes from teething or any medical procedures the child may have to undergo.
- Pacifiers assist in helping a child fall asleep and stay asleep, which we all know is so precious for both babies and parents in those early days especially.
In recent years, new data and statements have emerged claiming that pacifiers reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS.) It is not largely understood why this is, but the data reflects that pacifiers do indeed reduce the risk.
Some experts have speculated this is due to the act of sucking helping to correct minor physical developmental issues, and others say this is simply due to the pacifier causing a physical obstruction between the infant and their bedding.
Either way, a parent needs to take note of this information and perhaps consider temporary pacifier use for this reason, even if only for the first few months.
Pacifiers are a tool for temporarily distracting a child from something unpleasant for them, such as vaccinations or a long road trip or flight.
Another significant pro to pacifiers is that they can be thrown away when it’s time to move on; thumbs and fingers obviously cannot be disposed of. If a child relies on sucking their thumb or finger, it’s harder to get them to stop, versus the destruction and/or disposing of a pacifier.
Cons of Pacifier Use
Regardless of these pros to pacifier use, the cons are quite significant and must be considered.
One of the most notorious cons of pacifiers, especially in the newborn stage, is that pacifiers can interfere with breastfeeding. The recommendation is to wait on introducing the pacifier (if you so desire) until after breastfeeding is better established, around 3 to 4 weeks old.
Many new moms are skeptical of using pacifiers due to “nipple confusion.” It may be harder for an infant to go back and forth between breastfeeding and pacifier use. It can even cause undue frustration that could be avoided if pacifiers do not come into the picture.
Children can easily develop a dependency on a pacifier. Once a baby builds up a dependency on the pacifier, it is quite hard to break once it’s formed.
A couple of more long-term cons include physical health-related issues, such as:
- ear infections, dental problems, and speech delays
- pacifiers can increase the risk of middle ear infections. The frequent sucking on a pacifier opens the inner tubes in an abnormal way. This enables throat secretions to travel into the ear more easily, which can result in an increased amount of ear infections.
Structurally, pacifiers can cause the teeth or mouth to shift resulting in orthodontic issues down the road. In regards to speech issues, using a pacifier during sleep is less impactful on speech than using a pacifier during active waking hours, otherwise known as “talking time.”
If a pacifier is in the child’s mouth during “talking time,” this greatly limits their opportunities to articulate and practice speaking, which may result in delayed or distorted speech.
If a child becomes used to articulating word sounds with a pacifier in their mouth, they may have issues pronouncing word sounds correctly once their time with the pacifier comes to an end.
When To Stop Pacifier Use
The recommendation regarding when to cease pacifier use in early childhood varies depending on who you ask. Pediatricians, educators, dentists, and speech pathologists all have their own specific, preferred recommendations.
However, the overall time frame tends to be around 12-18 months. This is typically the ideal recommendation. That being said, this may not be realistic for every child or every family for various reasons. The best advice, and most realistic advice, is to greatly limit pacifier use by age 2 and completely eliminate the pacifier by age 4.
Some parents may choose to eliminate the pacifier very quickly, even overnight, while others may choose to carry out a more gradual weaning process.
There is no correct way to do it; the most important aspect of ceasing pacifier use is intentionality. By being intentional and making a plan to accomplish this goal of elimination, this process can be much more manageable for both the child and the parents.
Whether the approach to the process is eliminating “cold turkey,” or a gradual decrease in use over time, intentionality is important.
The main motivations for stopping pacifier use tend to be negative dental outcomes and/or speech delays or complications.
Negative dental-related impacts may occur after 24 months of using a pacifier, but the impacts are more severe or increased after 48 months of use. This is why it’s important to stop pacifier use by age 4 at the latest.
Pacifier Alternatives for Infants
Once you decide when and how to wean from the pacifier, it’s a good idea to also come up with some alternatives. Having a pacifier alternative may make the transition process easier for your infant.
- Breastfeeding can be a useful alternative to using a pacifier. The act of suckling is comforting and therapeutic for infants. They may be desiring to use the pacifier for this reason, which breastfeeding can fulfill.
- Rocking and/or swinging are soothing movements that may help calm the child down, creating no need to use the pacifier. These movements can be created by movement within a parent’s arms, or in a mechanical swing.
- A stuffed animal or lovey can provide the level of comfort an infant may be seeking in place of a pacifier. White noise is another soothing option to replace the comfort an infant feels from a pacifier, resulting in deep sleep.
Related: What Is A Lovey?
- A teething toy is a good option for infants who desire something in their mouths to ease the effects of teething or to satisfy the sucking or chewing reflex.
- A swaddle sack or sleep sack is another measure that assists in infant sleep, perhaps replacing the security a pacifier offers.
- If all else fails, a stroller ride is a calming activity that can assist an infant in falling asleep quickly and deeply.
Pacifier Alternatives For Toddlers
Providing a pacifier alternative for your toddler will likely be vital in ensuring success throughout the weaning process. The longer a child has been depending on a pacifier, the more difficult and upsetting this elimination process may feel for them.
- Giving your child a blanket in place of a pacifier may, over time, replace their need for comfort from a pacifier. When you notice your child trying to work through complex emotions, going for a walk may assuage their need for a pacifier. It can be a soothing distraction during an emotional time.
- Another fun, exciting distraction to be offered as an alternative in toddlerhood is a night light. A traditional night light is always a good option, and a star projector is another fun idea.
- Any kind of night light is calming at bedtime, which can help offset the pacifier desire, and it’s also intriguing. A night light or projector can make a toddler start to feel like “a big kid,” which is very exciting for them as they gain newfound independence.
- Teethers are a helpful pacifier alternative especially if your child is needing something to chew on while they’re teething and cutting molars.
- Intriguing toy items such as finger puppets and stuffed animals help to engage the child in play or follow their curiosity, taking their focus off of their desire for a pacifier.
- This idea is a little bit more unique, but giving your child a toy doll that has hair could potentially solve the issue of needing physical comfort, as hair twirling is a self-soothing behavior for some toddlers. They could focus on twirling the doll’s hair for comfort.
- A weaning pacifier could be a helpful option during this process. There are pacifier systems that have numbered stages with different pacifiers to use, making the weaning process more gradual. These weaning systems can assist in decreasing a toddler’s desire to use the pacifier, and help them feel like giving up the pacifier is more naturally their own idea.
- Also, it sounds very simple, but giving your toddler a drink or a snack when they’re fussing for a pacifier may also be a helpful practice to try during the weaning process.
How Long Does It Take To Break A Pacifier Habit?
The length of time in which it takes to break a pacifier habit depends on which route is chosen.
You can take the longer route and have it be a slower, more gradual process. It would likely consist of a couple of phases spanning a few months, or you could take the quick route.
This would eliminate the pacifier quite abruptly, such as overnight or throughout the course of a few days. Either method works well and produces the same end result (eliminating the pacifier.) It just depends on which one your child will respond to in the most positive way.
Regardless of which route is chosen, the most crucial aspect is to stay consistent. Create firm boundaries, and assist your child in navigating those boundaries.
Help them find new modes of self-soothing. The support of a loving, trusted caregiver will empower the child to accomplish this goal. Your presence and encouragement are so valuable in this process.
Bye Bye, Paci!
The pacifier weaning process can be an emotional one, but with the right information and resources, it can feel much more manageable.
Finding and implementing helpful alternatives to pacifiers for your child will assist in weaning, and will likely ensure a positive outcome. Your role as their loving, supportive parent and caregiver is so important to them, especially during transitional periods.
Staying consistent, calm, and intuitive to your child’s needs will be the major focal points to ensure success throughout the weaning process.