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Pacifier weaning Children's Wisconsin

No more nooks: How to say goodbye to the pacifier

Perhaps nothing is more beloved to a baby or toddler than their pacifier. Otherwise known as a nuk, paci, soother, or binky, the pacifier is often your baby’s first comfort item. Babies are born with an innate sucking reflex that helps them eat and comfort themselves, so it’s no surprise that a pacifier produces a calming effect when your baby is upset or going to sleep. Studies have even shown that pacifiers may relieve pain from minor procedures, and their usage may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

But, when is your child too old for a paci? Is there a “right” time to wean? Most experts agree that children should begin weaning from a pacifier between 12 and 18 months of age, and pediatricians actively discourage usage after age 4 due to potential adverse dental effects. 

Talk with your child’s pediatrician to discuss the best time to start weaning based on your specific situation. For example, you may want to hang onto the pacifier a bit longer if your child is teething or going through an illness — all things that bring discomfort. Similarly, choose a time to begin when you know you’ll have plenty of patience and can ensure consistency.

When you’re ready, there are several approaches to help your child (and you) break the pacifier habit.

Limit usage

Your first step in weaning can simply be to reduce your child’s usage. If your child is used to having the pacifier all day, limit it to bedtime and naptime.

Pick a new comfort item

You can help your child pick a new comfort item, such as a stuffed animal or blanket. Once your child is over 12 months old, they can use this item to provide comfort at night instead of a pacifier.

“Give” them to a new baby

Explain to your child that they are getting to be a big kid and that a new baby needs their pacifiers. Have your child help you pack up their pacifiers in preparation for sending them off. After you (pretend) to send the pacifiers away, your child can pick out a new comfort item in exchange for their old pacis.

Enlist the pacifier fairy

You may want to ask the fictional pacifier fairy (similar to the tooth fairy) to make a stop at your house. The pacifier fairy will swing by and pick up all the child’s pacifiers and leave a toy or reward in its place. 

Have a party

In conjunction with sending all the pacifiers to the pacifier fairy, your child can also have a “Goodbye Pacifier Party” where they celebrate what a big kid they are and all the big kid things they get to do. Your child can receive a new “big kid” gift or reward to celebrate.

Get a little help from your (child’s) friends

Make things easier on yourself by getting a little help from your child’s favorite characters. There are many board books, songs and even videos of beloved figures who can share the struggles and triumphs of giving up the pacifier with your child. Elmo even has his own episode on "Sesame Street" where he helps Curly Bear give up her paci.

What about snipping it?

You may have heard of the method that recommends cutting off the very tip of the pacifier or poking a hole in it with a pin so that it no longer provides satisfaction. However, intentionally creating holes or breaking the silicone may cause small pieces of the pacifier to come off, or make it possible for the child to bite pieces of it off. For these reasons, this method may pose a choking hazard and is not recommended by most pediatricians.

Once you’ve made the commitment to get rid of the pacifier and decided on which method to use, make sure to gather them all and avoid the temptation to replace them. If your child finds one, you may have to start over. You can always discuss any questions with your child’s pediatrician. And remember, praise and empathy can go a long way in helping your child conquer this next milestone.