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Parting with the pacifier

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Ready to help your child give up a pacifier? Here are some tips for navigating the tricky transition.

Whether they’re crystal clear, neon-bright, or covered in rhinestones, pacifiers are the modern baby’s accessory of choice. Thanks to studies showing that they reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, most pediatricians have given pacifiers the green light. A study in Pediatrics found that a whopping 68 percent of parents give them to their babies before six weeks of age.

Babies aren’t the only ones who love them; parents quickly become addicted to the pacifier’s soothing effects on their offspring. Unfortunately, it often becomes a habit that overstays its welcome.

Why wean?

Some children give up non-nutritive or comfort sucking on their own, but others cling to the habit well into the preschool years. According to Dr. Lotus Su, of Pediatric Dental Associates, using a pacific too much or for too long can contribute to dental problems, including deformation of the palate and shifting of the teeth, as well as mouth breathing and dry mouth, which may increase susceptibility to tooth decay.

Many doctors and dentists recommend ending the habit before permanent front teeth begin to emerge, which can happen before kindergarten.

“I recommend stopping pacifier use by age 3,” says Dr. Su. “The earlier a pacifier habit is stopped, the less likely that there will be any dental problems.”

Potential problems extend beyond the teeth. Pacifier use is associated with otitis media, or middle ear infections. Minor health upsets like gastrointestinal infections and oral thrush are also more commonly seen in pacifier users.

Parents may be swayed by medical data and dentists’ recommendations, but kids often need some coaxing to give up the long-held habit. Guilt-inducing lectures about dental problems or germs may be counterproductive, causing them to dig in their heels. Instead, help them become confidently pacifier-free with these tactics.

Literary lesson: Before embarking on a pacifier-purge, check out some children’s books on the topic. After listening to stories like “The Last Noo-Noo” by Jill Murphy or “Pacifiers Are Not Forever” by Elizabeth Verdick, your child may be more receptive to the idea.

Pacifier bear: When 3-year-old Violet was ready to give up her pacifier, mom Bec Langham took her to a popular build-your-own-stuffed-animal store. Violet deposited her last pacifier safely inside the teddy bear before it was sewn up. The bear now serves as both a cuddly friend and a unique reminder of Violet’s younger days.

Baby charity: Your child may be willing to donate her pacifiers to a good cause. Gather up the pacifiers, and pay a visit to a friend with a young baby. Have your child “gift” the baby with the pacifier collection, and shower her with praise for her generosity.

The Paci Fairy: Steal this idea from Supernanny Jo Frost: have your child place her pacifiers in a large envelope to mail to the “Pacifier Fairy.” Put the envelope in the mailbox together before bed. Once she’s asleep, swap the envelope for a new toy. When she wakes up, excitedly take her to the mailbox to find her new treasures.

Make the cut: Snipping a small hole in a pacifier can help it lose its appeal quickly, encouraging a child to give it up on her own. Be sure to dispose of a broken pacifier promptly, because it can harbor bacteria or become a choking hazard if a child continues to use it.

Out of sight, out of mind: Parents seeking the quickest route to pacifier-freedom can simply throw them all away. Kelly Stallings opted for the cold-turkey approach with daughter Taylor.

“The first night was rough, but after that, she didn’t care,” she says. Just make sure to get rid of each and every one, so your child isn’t tempted to relapse (and you’re not tempted to cave in).

No matter how stubbornly your child clings to a beloved binky, eventually it will be a thing of the past. Once your child is free of the pacifier habit, you’re free as well — from relentlessly searching for them, washing them, and buying them. Enjoy your well-earned liberation. At least, until the next must-have item comes along.

Malia Jacobson is a nationally published sleep expert, health journalist, and mom. She blogs about sleep and family health at www.thewellrestedfamily.com.

Updated 4:45 pm, July 9, 2018
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