Pacifiers sometimes get a bad rap. At least when they’re used by toddlers. But the truth is that pacifiers have so many benefits for infants (even recommended by the AAP), and we can’t blame toddlers for continuing to use them for comfort after we’re the ones who provided them in the first place! But at some point, it will be time to get rid of or drop the pacifier smoothly. So how do you drop the paci when you think it's time?
In this article we’ll go over when to transition your little one away from their pacifier and how to do it in the most calm and loving way possible.
Are pacifiers bad?
Pacifier use should not be labeled as “bad,” and in fact, up to 85% of babies likely use them at one time or another! And many babies will continue to use them into toddlerhood.
There is nothing wrong with a young kiddo using a pacifier. Let any mom guilt you may be feeling go, and just forget about any comment or eye stare from a rude busybody that made you feel less than as a parent. I definitely had those feelings when my 2-year-old still used a pacifier (especially when my Grandpa said, “Isn’t he too old for that thing?!”)
But the truth is, toddlers are still tiny little people who require a great deal of comfort. A pacifier offers that.
With that said, there does come a point when it starts affecting your child’s teeth and bite, and then you know it’s probably time. You can wait it out and see if your little gives it up on his own by age 3-4 (at this age, any teeth alignment issues will correct themselves), but it’s probably best to aim for pulling it sooner if you can.
When to Stop Your Toddler’s Pacifier Use
There is not one clear answer on when it’s best to get rid of your baby or toddler’s pacifier, but between the ages of 1 and 3 is ideal. The earlier you do it, the easier it will most likely be.
As with most challenges we encounter with our little ones, every situation and every kiddo is different. Honestly, it’s nice to know there is a range of when the pacifier should be dropped, without having to feel like you’re doing something wrong if that timeframe isn’t working for your particular child.
Experts offer the age range of 1-3 as the best time to get rid of your child’s pacifier, with 2 being a good average age to shoot for.
At Age 1: Some doctors will encourage you to have your baby be done with the pacifier before age 1, especially if frequent ear infections are a problem. Additionally, this age may be the easiest timeframe to get rid of it with the least amount of pushback (as opposed to a headstrong 2 or 3-year-old.)
At Age 2: According to the Academy of General Dentistry, continued pacifier use after age 2 is often associated with the increased ear infections, improper growth of the mouth and teeth misalignment. If your toddler is 2 and still using a pacifier, now is the time to either get rid of the pacifier or start your strategy of how you’ll do it.
At Age 3: Many experts give age 3 as a maximum stopping point for the pacifier. It’s also very likely that if you do choose to do nothing to stop its use, your little one may very well likely do it on his own.
From a mom of a son who used a pacifier, I know how hard it can be to take it away even though you know it’s best. When it’s something that provides so much comfort, the thought of eliminating it can be overwhelming. But he was 2.5 and we had a baby on the way, so we knew it was time.
So, what did I do? We used a combination of the below strategies to make for a pretty painless dropping of the pacifier.
Top Tips for Getting Rid of the Pacifier
I am not going to sit here and tell you that saying bye-bye to “baba” (or whatever your baby calls it) is going to be completely without tears. We have to be empathetic knowing that we’re taking something away that’s comforted them for months or years at this point. But it can done in a loving way, and just be ready to offer a lot of extra snuggles during this time.
Note: These tips are mostly intended for older babies and toddlers over the age of 1. If your baby is 12 months or younger, it might be easiest to just take it away. Yes, you will have a few rough days of short naps and night wake-ups, most likely, but within a few days your baby will have moved on.
Tip #1: Replace With Another Comfort
The main reason it’s so hard to detach toddlers from their pacifiers is because of the soothing comfort they provide. When a child gets worked up, the sucking instantly triggers their calming reflex. Plus, it’s a habit. Just as you have something that you’ve likely done for years, positive or negative, it’s very hard to break. So to counteract taking away something that’s so important to them, try to find a different comfort to replace it.
Have them go with you to pick out a special blanket and stuffed animal. Of course they already have blankets and stuffed animals, but picking out new ones that have special significance can make a big difference.
Tip #2: Give Them Something Else to Chew On
If you have a younger toddler who you’re transitioning away from the pacifier, finding other chewing toys to replace it can be a good idea. Part of why little ones are so attached to their pacifiers is because the sucking motion is comforting, and something that’s always helped them to relax. So taking this option completely away can be overwhelming.
If you’re worried about replacing one attachment with another, a chew toy like a teether introduced later is very different than a pacifier. And babies and toddlers need relief from teething anyway, so this can be a great transitional item.
We recommend something wearable like the Tasty Tie, so it’s not something falling to the ground that you’re always having to search for. You can find our other top recommendations in “Best Wearable Teethers of 2020.”
Tip #3: Make Your Little Guy/Girl Feel Like a Big Guy/Girl
Toddlers still love to be treated like babies from time to time, but they also love like they’re getting bigger and becoming more independent. By starting to have a discussion with your young child that pacifiers are best for babies, or pointing out when you see babies with pacifiers, your toddler will start to make the connection that dropping the pacifier means he or she is getting “big.”
In our son's case, we told him we had to send them off with the "New Baby Fairy" so all the new babies could have the pacifiers they needed.
Tip #4: Cut the Tip or Poke a Hole
If you’re skeptical about if this actually works, here’s an example of where it went very smoothly. In her case she cut the tip little by little until her daughter just decided she didn’t want to use it anymore. I’ve also heard of parents putting just a pinhole in the top to make the sucking sensation less satisfying.
The thought is that the since the feeling is different, your child won't look as forward to using the pacifier. The goal is that it will lose its appeal. This one is definitely worth a try, possibly in a gradual way as we discuss below.
Tip #5: Wean Gradually
This could be done in a few different ways.
- You could use the system of poking a hole/cutting the tip little by little as discussed above.
- Another option that we use went like this:
When it was time to help our son get rid of his pacifier, we threw a few of them away. That left us with only a couple around the house. A few days later we “lost” one...pretty, and only had one left.
At this point there were plenty of times he didn’t have it when he needed it, which would make him upset at first, but then he needed it less and less. Eventually it was gone forever. He tried to convince us to get a new one, but we told him it must have gone to the "New Baby Fairy" who would get it ready for his baby sister.
Honestly it went really well. He was a bit sad at first, but after a couple of days he never asked for it again and we never looked back.
- You could also try something like the Frida Weaning System. Many parents swear by it, but keep in mind it’s best used with babies between 6 and 18 months of age.
Using Strategies Together to Lose the Pacifier Good
Parenting is hard, and that’s a fact. Knowingly taking something away from your young child that they hold so dear and helps them stay happy can be really hard. At the same time, this is a transitional time in your child’s life where they’re growing into the next stage.
Once you start the process, be compassionate, yet firm. Don't go back on your decision at this point as it will only make it harder. (Plus you'll have to try again at another time anyway.) You got this!
By coupling two or three of the strategies above together, you can help your toddler drop the paci so you can focus on all the fun stuff that comes next.