The Pacifier & Sleep – Friend or Foe?
We talk a lot about the pacifier with our sleep consulting clients. We get asked a lot of questions like…
Should I keep the pacifier when sleep training?
At what age should I take away the binkie?
Some babies LOVE the pacifier from the start. As much of a comfort the pacifier can be for babies and toddlers, it can also be a major sleep disruptor.
Today we are going to explore pacifier usage at different ages to determine “is the pacifier a friend or foe?”
Want to quickly go right to your child’s age? Click below:
The Pacifier & Newborns
Sucking is one of baby’s primary reflexes. You may have even seen your babe sucking their thumb in utero! For some babies, the sucking reflex is so strong and they immediately fall in love with their binkie. And in other babies, they have no interest in the pacifier whatsoever. Both are completely normal.
The soother can be an amazing soothing tool for those babies that naturally love it. For parents, the pacifier can be the first line of defense for calming a fussy baby. It also serves as an amazing distraction after shots or if your baby doesn’t love the car seat. The pacifier has also shown that it might help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
All amazing things, right? Yes, but there are also downsides of the binkie, particularly surrounding sleep. We’ll explore those in the baby section below. If the pacifier is a major problem with your newborn’s sleep, we can help you with this during a Newborn Sleep Consultation.
Newborn Pacifier Rating:
At the 4 month mark, baby transitions from newborns to infants! With the transition to babyhood, there are a lot of amazing progressions developmentally. Little geniuses are learning and growing at a rapid rate!
Unfortunately, whenever children are going through anything major developmentally, there can be a regression in sleep. At this age, babies commonly experience the 4 Month Sleep Regression.
For your newborn, you may have had to replace the pacifier 1-2 times throughout the night and it was no big deal. Now that your baby is 4 months old, your little one may begin waking almost hourly. If your baby is dependent on the paci, you may need to replace it every time they wake up because they “need” it to sleep. Hello exhaustion for you and your baby!
When this doesn’t pass quickly, we normally hear from parents in between 5-9 months because sleep deprivation is stealing their joy and making it impossible to function and show up in the world the way they want to. There is a good reason that sleep deprivation is a form of torture, amiright?
When our babies are dependent on anything outside of themselves for sleep, it is called a sleep association.
Common sleep associations include:
- nursing / bottle to sleep
- rocking, bouncing and holding to sleep
- movement sleep like the stroller or car
- despite not setting out to co-sleep (often due to a dramatic increase in SIDS), parents reactively co-sleep by bringing the baby into bed in attempts to get more sleep for everyone
- parental touch
- replacing the pacifier
So these exhausted parents are saying “should I take the pacifier when sleep training?”
If your little one can’t replace their soother themselves and are dependent on you to replace it, it will likely make the sleep training process easier if you take the pacifier at the start of sleep training.
Children putting themselves to sleep is an innate ability, but it is also a learned skill. With sleep training, we are removing anything that impedes our children learning that they are capable of putting themselves to sleep. We are teaching them new, healthier sleep skills. This is where the magic happens and babies sleep through the night!
So throughout the sleep training process, you won’t be able to continue replacing the pacifier. If your baby can’t replace the binkie themselves, it can make the process harder them if you decide to keep it.
Around 7 months is the normal age when babies can start replacing the pacifier themselves. Some parents will opt to keep it and make it the baby’s job to replace it themselves. This can be successful, although you want to keep in mind that if your baby is up frequently throughout the night looking for the paci and replacing it, it can impact sleep quality because the wakings fragment the sleep.
Baby Pacifier Rating:
Foe for babies that have a pacifier dependence.
Friend if your baby can sleep without it and it doesn’t impact sleep.
If your toddler is in between 12-14 months and you are embarking on sleep training, I always recommend taking the soother away, unless you envision your child keeping it until much closer to age 3. There is no real way to wean the pacifier
At 15 months, toddlers are beginning a phase where they are seeking more independence and exploring, yet they are still clinging to their primary caregivers and comfort items.
If the pacifier is an integral part of your toddler’s life and soothing, taking it away past the 15 month mark can create long term sleep challenges. The pacifier is a tool that allows your child to prepare their body for sleep, soothe and regulate their emotions. It provides your child with the ability to be in control and to regulate.
Developmentally, during this time, toddlers need that comforting reassurance and consistency, while they navigate the conflicting needs for more autonomy and continued comfort. If the pacifier is taken and they’ve come to rely on it for sleep, we’ve both nap and nights tend to be challenging. We’ve essentially taken away their control and ability to self-regulate.
So if you’ve already taken the pacifier during the forbidden zone and sleep went rapidly downhill…
- You can choose to give the pacifier back, especially if it has been a short period of time. You can say “we are giving you your pacifier back. When your body is ready to give away the pacifier, you let me know.”
- If giving the pacifier back isn’t an option, you will likely need to do some sleep training to help your little one get back on track. We can help!
Your pediatrician (and dentist) are likely going to tell you to take the soother by age 2 due to concerns about oral health development. What’s the right choice? That is up to you as the parent!
It is said that the adverse effects are more significant after 48 months so that is another factor to take into consideration when you are making this decision.
Toddler Pacifier Rating:
Foe if sleep training before 15 months
Friend if your toddler is 15+ months, but replacing the pacifier needs to be your toddler’s job
Your toddler has now transitioned into preschooler territory! If you’ve decided to keep the binkie, your dentist is probably hot on your trail to drop the pacifier, like yesterday. And your little one is ready developmentally, even if they don’t think it is the greatest idea!
How to go about making the transition away from the pacifier? For some children, this is an easy transition and they never look back. Here are some tips to help with the transition if your child isn’t as receptive:
- Family Meeting – to talk about the changes that are coming
- Validation – “I know this is hard. You really love your pacifier. We can remember together how much you loved it.”
- Tell your child what they can do. “We don’t have pacifiers anymore so you can’t have your pacifier, but when you want it, you can hug your bear, wiggle your fingers or squeeze your lips together.”
- You can offer frozen teething rings as a transition – this can send the message “I support you and I am here to help you through.”
- Head to Build-A-Bear if you have one locally. Together you can put the binkie in the bear like you do when putting in the heart and then they have a new pacifier bear to use for comfort.
Then tell the truth. The pacifier fairy and children in other countries needing the pacifiers are common fibs parents tell their kids.
For building trust, it is best to tell your child the truth and the real reasons why it isn’t healthy to keep the binkie. Telling the truth lets you tell your child that you trust that they can make this adjustment and you are there to support them.
Preschooler Pacifier Rating:
Foe – it is time to drop the pacifier and support your child through the process
If you need help making this transition or getting sleep on track, we’d love to help you. Schedule a free intro call today so we can learn more, make sure we are a good fit and talk about working together.
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