Q. We’re expecting our first child, and I’m curious about pacifiers. My wife plans to breastfeed our baby. Will we still need or want to use a pacifier? And if we do, when is a good time to get the child to give up the pacifier?

A. Sometimes when mothers breastfeed, they find the baby wanting to nurse more frequently, for example, more than every two hours. This frequency of breastfeeding suggests the baby needs to suck to calm down, and is in effect using mom as a pacifier. After the breastfeeding is going well (but not before) is a good time to add the use of a pacifier.

There are plenty of opinions on when and how a child should give up his pacifier. Some people advocate taking it away at three months, while others say the child will give it up himself before he starts kindergarten. Most parents ease their child off the pacifier between 18 and 24 months old. Pat Hamaguchi, a speech language pathologist and author of Childhood Speech, Language and Listening Problems: What a Parent Should Know, has said that parents should give the child a newborn-size pacifier, limit its use as much as possible and give it up by 18 months.

There is a concern that continued and frequent use of a pacifier can make a child prone to issues like ear infections, a lisp or language problems. Some parents limit pacifier use to only in the home or only at night, while others offer it freely. Other parents are concerned about their child being anxious without the pacifier and want to allow its use to go on past the age of 2.

In my opinion, if there are no ear infections or speech problems, it’s up to you as the parent to decide when to give up the pacifier. Bear in mind that using a binky is a lot like thumb-sucking, except that you can’t lose a thumb or trade it for a toy. In any event, you can rest assured your child will most likely give it up by the time he goes to school.

You ask how to get a child to give up a pacifier, and it seems there are a variety of ways:

  • My friends told their 2-year-old the train set he wanted would cost his pacifier. At the store, they let the clerk in on the trade. When it was time to pay, the young boy gave his pacifier to the clerk.
  • Some children are told Santa or a Binky Fairy will come for the pacifier so a new boy or girl can have it, and leave a toy in exchange. A soft, cuddly toy is often left in its place.
  • Some parents use a three-day technique to wean their children off the pacifier. A warning is given on Day One, along with the message, “You can do it.” On Day Two, a reminder is given. On Day Three, the pacifiers are gathered up to be “recycled into new toys.”
  • Other parents have gotten children to give up pacifiers by making them taste bad or by cutting the rubber part so there’s no suction (and ensuring the child won’t ingest a part of the rubber).
  • Some parents remove all the pacifiers and say they’re lost. The most comforting way seems to be getting something in the place of the pacifier.

There are lots of books for children about giving up the pacifier, such as No More Pacifier, Duck by Michael Dahl, Bye Bye Binky by Maria Von Lieshout and Pacifiers are Not Forever by Elizabeth Verdick.

Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.

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