Saying farewell to the pacifier, or binky, is a significant milestone for both parents and little ones. Pacifiers can be invaluable tools for many families, helping soothe infants during naptime, reduce risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and help babies and infants calm down when stressed.
Even though pacifiers may be an indispensable tool at the beginning of your little one’s life, the binky may start to cause problems as your little one grows up. Maybe your baby has developed a sleep association with the binky, leading to disrupted sleep patterns. Or, maybe your little one is approaching the age where the pacifier can cause dental issues.
Knowing when, and how, to wean your baby or toddler off their binky can help make the transition as smooth as possible. In this guide, we’ll navigate the upts and downs of pacifier weaning, offering practical tips and strategies to help your little one say goodbye to their beloved binky.
When Should Your Little One Stop Using Their Pacifier?
Choosing the right time to begin pacifier weaning is crucial. Some children may naturally outgrow their need for a pacifier, while others may need a gentle push. Though there is no hard and fast rule for when to start pacifier weaning, experts have many recommendations based on your family’s needs.
- The AAP and AAFP (American Association of Family Physicians) recommends reducing or stopping pacifier use around six months old, before little ones develop an emotional connection to their binky.
- Around nine months old, your little one is more likely to develop an emotional connection to their paci, making weaning more difficult.
- After the two year mark, pacifier use can lead to dependency and increased risk of ear infections.
- The AAPD (American Association of Pediatric Dentistry) recommends stopping pacifier use at 3 years old, while optimally starting weening around 18 months old, or whenever your little one’s canines come in to avoid dental issues.
Remember to assess both your needs and your little one’s needs when choosing when to wean. For some families, reducing pacifier use as early as six months old can make sense, especially if your little one hasn’t become dependent on it. For other families, using the pacifier longer can help your little one deal with stress.
How to Wean Your Child off Their Pacifier
You have a lot of options for weaning your little one off their pacifier. Depending on when you choose to start weaning, your approach might look a little different. With a variety of techniques that can be customized to your little one’s needs, you’re sure to find a way to make this transition as easy as possible.
Weaning Babies from the Pacifier
Choosing to reduce pacifier use early can help avoid a longer, more difficult weaning journey for older kiddos with an emotional connection to their binky. If your baby isn’t too dependent on their binky to sleep, or if you can reasonably deal with a few tough nights, then weaning now can be a good option
- Start by limiting pacifier use during the day. Offer your little one their binky during naps and nighttime before taking it away completely.
- Replace the binky with another comfort item. Sometimes, the binky is all about stimulation. Try out a lovey, teething toy, or other age-appropriate product during the day.
- Use white noise. Both sucking and shushing are part of the 5 S’s that help soothe babies (swaddling, side-stomach position, shush, swing, and suck). Continuous, monotonous, and low-pitched white noise acts as a shushing noise and is a realistic soothing replacement to the binky.
Weaning Toddlers off the Pacifier
Although weaning toddlers can be a bit tougher because of their emotional connection to their binky, you have a lot of approaches at your disposal. You know your little one and your family the best, so choose a strategy that best fits your needs and adapt it as you need to!
Going Cold Turkey
For some little ones, a cold turkey approach will be too extreme. For others, though, this can work great, especially if your little one is very close to the recommended time to stop pacifier usage. If your little one doesn’t have an emotional dependency on their binky, or tends to tolerate change,
- Communicate with all caregivers. All caregivers, like parents, babysitters, or daycare teachers need to be aware that your toddler is no longer allowed to have a binky. Consistency is key.
- Set clear boundaries with your little one. Tell them what’s happening, uphold boundaries, and be consistent.
- Make giving up the pacifier a fun occasion. You and your little one can choose a special day to say bye-bye to the binky, replace it with a cool grown-up toy, or call upon the Pacifier Fairy (just like a Tooth Fairy) to make their transition magical.
- Have back-up options. For some toddlers, having a new comfort item can make saying “bye-bye binky!” easier. Consider a stuffed animal, lovey, or blankie to help your little one soothe.
The Gradual Approach
If your little one isn’t ready for cold turkey, or if you have enough time to gradually wean, then this approach can be less stressful for both you and your child.
Slowly limit pacifier time. Start taking away the binky either during the day or at sleeping times only. This helps your little one get used to their
pacifier’s absence. You can slowly increase the amount of time your toddler goes pacifier-free.
- Set specific pacifier-free times. You can work with your little one to establish set times they can’t use the pacifier. For instance, if they reach for it during a stressful time or just because, consider setting a timer before you allow them to have it. During this time, you can help them practice other self-soothing techniques. If they learn to calm down without the pacifier, they might not even want it!
- Set a future date. This can look very similar to the cold turkey approach. You can set a date far in the future, though, and work with other gradual weaning techniques until then. Consider choosing a fun day, like their birthday, marking it on the calendar, and making it an occasion to look forward to. This way, your little one won’t be surprised when it’s time to say bye!
- Celebrate milestones! Setting time-based weaning goals and celebrating when goals are met with your toddler can make weaning fun. Creating a chart and rewarding with treats, fun activies, or praise can ease the stress of transitioning away from a binky.
- Transition to a new comfort object. Slowly replace your little one’s binky with another item they love, whether it’s a stuffed animal, lovey, or toy. You can even consider taking them to choose a new companion themselves! Encourage them to turn to this item rather than their pacifier.
- Communicate with your toddler. Being open and honest with your little one so they aren’t confused can help with this transition. This is also a great opportunity to make weaning fun! You can call it a journey and even make a story out of it!
Have Patience During Your Little One's Pacifier Weaning Journey!
Remember, pacifier weaning is a journey that looks different for every child and family. No matter when you start and how you do it, remember to be patience with yourself and your little one. Be prepared for occasional setbacks and remember that your child may need time to adjust to such a significant change.
Saying goodbye to the binky is a milestone filled with mixed emotions, but it's also a sign of your little one's growth and development. With a suitable approach, patience, and love and support, you and your little one will be able to navigate pacifier weaning successfully!