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There seems to be no consensus among baby-sleep experts on the value of the pacifier; some sources consider it a good sleep association (akin to swaddling and white noise), others see it as a hassle for parents who must constantly reinsert it, not to mention eventually wean their strongly-attached toddlers from it. It's been valuable for us but I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth discontinuing much earlier than toddlerhood.

My situation: my three-month-old is generally a good and independent sleeper -- we've been practicing "drowsy but awake" since he was quite young in hopes that it'd create smooth and generous naps, like it did for our older son -- except that he has a very strong association to the pacifier. He doesn't use it much during the day (only to hold him off while milk is warming, or if overstimulated in a public place) but since the newborn days, he's relied on it to fall asleep on his own for naps or bedtime. (Typically I'll put him down in the crib, pacifier inserted, and soothingly rub his back or hold his hand; this calms him enough that he can settle on his own, most of the time, although I confess to rocking him to sleep on fussier days.)

At three months, I'd expect him to begin consolidating daytime sleep into fewer and longer naps, and he seems to want to. But despite an otherwise excellent foundation for independent sleep, he has difficulty extending his naps beyond one sleep cycle (~40 minutes) because invariably the pacifier has fallen out of his mouth; he certainly doesn't have the hand-eye coordination or self-awareness yet to reinsert the pacifier himself, and won't for some time. I've found myself reentering his room to soothe him and re-insert the pacifier, in order to get any decently long and restful nap out of him (and if I do this, he can nap for two or more hours at a time). This practice seems unsustainable, especially when it means leaving my energetic toddler alone downstairs while I deal with the pacifier every 40 minutes.

Given that we're just now working on establishing a better nap schedule anyway, am I crazy for trying to wean the baby off the pacifier at the same time? I feel like the short-term pain might be worth the long-term gain -- and that doing so at three months, before object permanence sets in, might be the best opportunity. But I also fear that breaking his best sleep association at such a young age could make napping more tenuous and difficult overall, which would be counterproductive -- and I fear that half-measures (trying to settle without the pacifier, growing frustrated/enraged, then finally giving up and reinserting it) would lead us to both negative consequences.

Has anyone had this experience with pacifiers before? Is there any evidence of benefits of the use of pacifiers into toddlerhood?

  • I'm editing your title and the body a bit, because as asked, it is Primarily Opinion Based, and could/should be closed on that basis, which would be unfortunate. Hope that's OK. – anongoodnurse Jan 12 '18 at 20:49
  • @anongoodnurse Much appreciated, thank you. – mrtk Jan 12 '18 at 21:57
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Like you said, it's hard to find any hard science on this. It seems like there's considerable disagreement about pacifiers, and I'm not an expert.

Having said that, my opinion is that you aren't crazy at all for wanting to wean the baby off the pacifier at the same time that you change the nap schedule. I haven't met any one that regretted weaning their child from pacifiers, but I have met several people who regret letting their child keep one for as long as they did. I would say give it a try, and try to associate something else with sleep. Always use the same location, or the same position (if you're laying down with the baby). Like I said, I'm not expert, but we weaned the same time that we changed sleeping patterns for two of ours, and it worked out pretty well. Everyone is still alive at least, and we don't have a toddler with an annoying pacifier. Good luck!

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The other option is they suck their thumb/fingers. You probably don't want to go there if you can help it. You can take away a pacifier, you can't take away their thumb. All my children were avid thumb suckers until school age, and I'd trade all the talks and gimmicks we tried to get them to stop, for the ability to have simply taken it away and dealt with a few nights of screaming.

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