Pacifiers: Yes or No?

My three months old baby wants to suck all the time. After ten minutes on a side, she’s full but wants to stay on the breast for another hour.  I want to meet her needs, but can’t have her velcroed to me all day. We’re considering a pacifier, but every time I see a 4 year old with one lodged in his mouth, I shudder. Your advice?

-- San Francisco mom


Pacifiers do generate passionate debates.  I, too, cringe at kids cruising around town with pacifiers permanently implanted in their mouths, but I’ve never seen one go to college that way, so let’s not panic. Pacifiers are a useful for soothing babies, especially fussy ones, and getting them back to sleep in the middle of the night.  But you will have a problem if your child grows extremely dependent on a pacifier and you don’t gradually restrict its use and then wean her.  

Decide about a pacifier based on these questions:

1.  Is your baby very sensitive? Fussy? Wants to suck all the time?

2.  Is your life hectic?  Are both parents working?  Are you stretched to the maximum?  

4. Does an older child still require a lot of attention or an aging parent need your care?

5. Are you far from family? Have little help?


Answered “yes” to most of these?  I advise trying a pacifier.  Crutch? Yes, of course; but raising a baby takes many hands and feet, so a crutch is probably exactly what you need.  You can see if your baby will find her thumb or fingers.  These never get lost, but are, obviously, harder to wean from.  Your baby may be finicky: try several pacifiers until you find one she likes (some never take to them).  


If you go for a pacifier, bear in mind:

1.   Pacifiers work well for helping babies back to sleep but often fall out/get lost in the crib. Attach the pacifier with a short ribbon (2”) to the edge of your baby’s sleeve and teach her to find it on her own in the middle of the night by moving her hand for her until she grabs it. Put an extra pacifier in a box in the corner of the crib so you can find it in the dark.  Eventually, your child can learn to get it from the box herself.

2.  Be honest with yourself: it’s really easy to overuse the pacifier! Don’t resort to it every time your baby cries; develop other soothing methods.

3.  With time, gradually increase restrictions on using the pacifier: first only at home, then only in her room, finally only in her crib/bed.

4.  Around 3 is a good time to wean from the pacifier. By now, the pacifier hopefully “lives” in your child’s bed. Start with a discussion, lay out a step-by-step plan, and promise a big reward once she’s “pacifier-free.”


We did that with my son, taking advantage of his upcoming 3rd birthday and motivation to be a “big boy.”  His “pacifier habit” was: one in the mouth, one in his hand.   We began with the easier step - the hand-held one. We put it to bed at night in a shoebox I made into “Motzetzi’s Bed” (we used the Hebrew word).  That went well.  Soon he started putting the mouth pacifier in the box too after a goodnight quick suck.  The pacifiers spent the night right there, in the corner of his crib.  A little while later, we were driving across country. In Illinois my son wanted to fling Motzetzi out the window.  We explained we were driving fast and that, once he threw it out, it wasn’t coming back.  “See,” I pointed to a tree, ”we’re next to it now but in a minute it’ll be so far we won’t see it.”  He turned back to watch the tree vanished, but still wanted to do it. We rolled down his window and he tossed it, yelling “Bye, Motzetzti!”


Minutes later he wanted it back.  He was sad... “Motzetzi, is all alone by the side of the road!”  “Yes,” I said, “but probably a rabbit hopping near the road found it and took it home.”   It worked!  We continued with “Bunny and Motzetzi Adventures” all the way home.


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