Pacifiers. For such a small item they can bring about some strong opinions. I’ll say it flat out, I am pro pacifier. It is interesting that there is an idea that pacifiers are anti-sleep or anti-Babywise or anti-good parenting. Or that pacifiers are lazy and poor parenting. I completely disagree. I think pacifiers can be a very helpful tool and align with Babywise ideas. And I think they are helpful regardless of what baby school of thought you belong to. (I just happen to follow Babywise, it isn’t the only way to do this parenting thing.) Now, they aren’t perfect. But are pacifiers ruining your baby? I say no. If you consider your long-term goals I find pacifiers to be an extremely helpful tool.
Why Use a Pacifier?
To start out, sleep props are something that need to be thought about carefully. I think a general idea is that sleep props are bad. You don’t want a baby to need something to fall asleep, you want them to fall asleep on their own. This is a life skill, being able to sleep. But let’s replace the word prop with tool. A prop is something that you rely on, perhaps unnecessarily. It can be seen as a bit of a crutch. A tool is something you use to achieve your goal. In this case, I think pacifiers are a tool. They can help you teach your baby to sleep on their own. As far as sleep tools go they are a very convenient one. They are small and easy to take places, plus replacements are available at a ton of stores.
An idea that I love from Babywise is to start as you mean to go. This makes total sense. Who wants to start a habit they are just going to have to break later? I think this makes some parents not want to even start a pacifier. At some point, you are going to have to take it away, why even introduce it? In the short term, yes. You are introducing something that you are going to take away. But consider your bigger goals – teaching your child to self-soothe and sleep well. In that respect introducing this tool is completely in line with your goals.
While the pacifier is a great tool, it is not without drawbacks. So how do you handle those problems?
What if my child doesn’t like the pacifier?
This is possible. There are some babies that are just not into it. But I think the tendency is to give up before baby really has a chance to figure out how to use one. Like breastfeeding, this sort of sucking isn’t always as intuitive as it seems like it should be. Baby might need some help to learn how to use the pacifier. My son was like this. To help I would hold the pacifier for him and let him play with it in his mouth. This means actually putting the pacifier in baby’s mouth, not just kind of handing it to baby or holding it in front of his face. They don’t know what it is for, so you might have to show them. I would help, I would hold the pacifier and let my son find a good sucking rhythm. This is a good activity for wake times. You can hold them, talk to them, and help them learn to use a pacifier. Yes, some babies might not like the pacifier. But I think a lot can learn to use it well.
What about nipple confusion?
Nipple confusion is the idea that a baby won’t take the breast or eat well after, in this case, using some sort of pacifier. A pacifier uses different sucking techniques than when a baby eats. To this I would point out that a lot of NICU babies are given pacifiers. These are the babies that need the most care. Would medical professionals give them something that would make it harder for them to eat? I think not. And honestly, one gives food, one doesn’t. I wouldn’t worry about confusion.
What if my child spits the pacifier out during sleep?
This is less of a what if and more a when. Your child will spit the pacifier out while they are asleep. Then when they wake up and cry they won’t be able to replace it themselves for the first several months. You then have the choice to go and replace the pacifier or use a different method to help baby get back to sleep. I think this is a big reason Babywise moms don’t like the pacifier, the baby isn’t learning to fall asleep on their own. I disagree though. Babies wake up regardless of whether or not you use a pacifier, so you will have to make decisions. I was never a big fan of letting my babies cry it out at night. (I’m not starting a debate on it, just saying it wasn’t for me.) So I could either be awake hearing my baby cry, or I could be awake and actively soothing. Once we had the girls it was even less helpful to just let someone cry. That could end with everyone awake. I didn’t want that. So yes, I would wake up and pop that pacifier back in. This shortened the wake time considerably. While I did have to get up, the total time was about thirty seconds. My baby would fall right back to sleep and I could get right back to sleep. That is a win for me.
As for the idea that using this tool will prevent baby from learning how to fall back asleep, I just disagree. I think that shortening the wake-up times helps to make that transition between sleep phases. Their bodies learn to not wake all the way up and stay asleep. It is easy to quickly replace the pacifier without interacting with your baby too much too. I got pretty good at being a pacifier ninja, just slipping in and out of the room. This helps you soothe your baby, but they don’t get used to you being in there for the process. In time babies do learn how to find and replace the pacifier themselves, making it a great tool they can control.
What about pacifier use outside of the bed?
My kids have all used their pacifiers outside of the bed. Once they get mobile while we are out and about we start keeping the use to home, and then just the bed. But at first, it is all the time. Why? Well, babies need to learn to soothe themselves in more situations than just sleep. The pacifier can be a helpful tool to teach babies how to calm themselves at any point. This was especially helpful with twins and having more than one child in general. There were times when one girl would be upset about something, but I couldn’t just drop everything and hold them. If I am changing a diaper for example, well, you have to wait. Then there are all the little frustrations that sisters have to face- they mess with each other a lot. Not every infraction requires me to step in. Both my girls learned very early to go and find their pacifier if they needed comfort. I think this is an incredible skill to be building so young! To know that you are upset and find a good way to handle that? That’s something I think I still work on as an adult. So the pacifier has been incredibly useful, even outside of the bed.
What about the challenges of weaning?
A potential downside of pacifier use is that you do have to wean from it. One reason I for sure wanted to use a pacifier was that it is something you can take away, compared to when babies suck their thumbs. You can’t take away a kid’s hand. But you can take away a pacifier. Since I know my overall goal of using this tool and then phasing it out, I can plan ahead. I have found there are some natural times to cut down on pacifier use. At first, my babies use the pacifier wherever, whenever. When we go out they are in the stroller or car seat, so having a pacifier is no big deal. When they are old enough to walk around with us we stop taking the pacifier out of the car. Quite frankly I don’t want to have to keep track of it when we are out. Keeping it in the car is a nice compromise. We have it if we need it, but we are starting to get used to life without it. Once that is common I start keeping use to in the bed. Again, if we need it we can pull it out, but I am trying to keep the association to just sleep. After that, we eliminate it at night.
With my son, we took the pacifier away cold turkey. He had started chewing on it to the point of cracking them, and that is just unsafe. This chewing was a clear sign he didn’t need it for the intended purpose, so he had no problems not using it. My plan for my girls is to use a don’t offer don’t refuse at first. Whatever weaning method you chose to use, the point is that you can wean from a pacifier.
I am very happy we use pacifiers. They have been useful tools that have helped my children learn how to sleep well on their own and calm themselves outside of sleep times. I think they line up with Babywise thinking, but more importantly, they line up with our personal goals for helping our children.
Here are some additional posts you might like: