Pacifiers: Do They Help My Baby Sleep Better?
Benefits of Pacifiers
Pacifiers have the magical ability to save us from a major baby meltdown. Maybe baby missed their sleep window by a little bit or got an unexpected bump on the head. Just before a full tantrum ensues, the pacifier rescues the day and all is well.
Pacifiers have benefits beyond preventing tantrums, as well. The AAP found that pacifiers can reduce the risk of SIDS, possibly due to the fact that baby has a harder time burying their face into soft bedding if they have a pacifier sticking out of their mouth. So given that very substantial and important consideration, I’m making the following recommendations based on the supposition that your baby’s over a year old.
That doesn’t mean this is irrelevant if your little one’s younger than that, but just make sure you’ve carefully considered the pros and cons of taking away the pacifier before you make a decision.
Drawbacks of Pacifiers
Pacifiers can become a problem when it comes to sleep. If baby’s accustomed to falling asleep with a pacifier in, they almost always end up waking up in the night after it’s fallen out, and they kick up a fuss until mom gets up, finds it, and pops it back in their mouth.
Let's first look at why baby can’t just fall asleep with a pacifier in and then peacefully sleep through the night. Sleep, for babies and adults alike, comes in cycles. Many of us are under the assumption that we fall asleep at the start of the night, go into a deeper sleep as the night goes on, then gradually come out of it as the morning rolls around. It’s true that we go from light sleep to deep sleep and then back again, but it happens several times a night, depending on how long you sleep for. For adults, a full cycle typically takes somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. For a baby, it’s closer to 50 minutes. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/baby-sleep/baby-sleep-cycle
How Soothers Cause Frequent Nightwakings
If your baby won’t go to sleep at bedtime without a pacifier in their mouth, then there’s a distinct possibility that they’re reliant on that pacifier to get to sleep. When they get to the end of a sleep cycle, they get into that very light stage of sleep and might actually wake up. At this point, any is still tired, but might have trouble getting back to sleep because they're looking for their pacifier. And with the inability to find it themselves, they’re going to start crying for someone to come and rectify the situation.
And that, right there, is the definition of what we call a “sleep prop.” This is when baby relies on something they cannot do themselves in order to fall asleep. Sometimes it’s feeding, sometimes it’s rocking, sometimes it’s some crazy combination of a bunch of things. .
More than anything, that’s the secret to sleeping through the night. Getting rid of sleep props is, hands down, the most important component to getting your little one sleeping peacefully from the time you put them to bed until they wake up, happy and refreshed, in the morning.
How to Drop The Paci
If you've figured out that your baby's frequent sleep issues are caused by the use of a soother, and you're ready to take the plunge to get rid of that pacifier, I’ve got a few tips to get you through the process as quickly and peacefully as possible.
1. Commit to the Process
Sign a mental contract with yourself that you’re not going to do it by half measures, and you’re ready to go all-in. Come up with a plan and stick to it.
2. Cut Out the Pacifier Cold Turkey
When it comes to breaking bad habits, I’m a cold-turkey advocate, and this situation is no different. Toddlers do better with absolutes than they do with moderation, so my advice to parents is almost always to just pick a day to make the change, explain it to your little one, and then toss all the pacifiers into the trash.
2. Forego the Back-Up Soother
Toddlers can often adjust to new situations remarkably easily so long as things are clear and consistent, so don’t save one for emergencies or just-in-case scenarios, because it will be too easy for you to fall back on the pacifier to get a quick solution if your baby is having trouble sleeping, and then you’re just causing confusion.
3. Put a Positive Spin on this Transition
Toddlers typically embrace the idea of growing into “big kids,” so marking it as a milestone can be a big help. Make sure to present the change as a very exciting and positive occasion. This is a bit of a dirty parenting trick, but you could round this off with the introduction of a “Pacifier Fairy,’ by telling your toddler that the Pacifier Fairy is coming to collect all of their dummies and, in exchange, is going to leave them a special surprise. Whether that’s something that your little one will embrace, I leave up to your discretion. One quick side note here: I’ve seen a lot of situations where parents will give the older baby’s pacifiers to the younger one. At the time, it seems like a good idea, but it can breed some resentment from your toddler when they see their younger sibling sucking on their pacifier. If you’re able to, get rid of your toddler’s pacifiers and get different ones for the younger child.
4. Be Prepared
So, you’ve laid the groundwork, your little one has grasped what’s going on, and the house is now pacifier-free. Now you’re going to want to brace yourself, because in about 99% of all cases, your toddler’s going to go a little bit bananas while they adjust to the new reality. We all get a little irritable when we’re breaking a habit, but I just want you to be aware that it’s almost never a seamless transition. There’s going to be some pushback.
5. Use Distractions to Your Advantage
When the pushback hits, and your toddler starts to lose it a little, distract, distract, distract. Keep some of their favorite treats on standby, have the iPad cartoons at the ready, and when they start to fuss about the lack of a pacifier, quickly turn their attention to something else. You can acknowledge their frustration, offer them as much comfort and support as they need, but don’t apologize or give in.
Remember that you’re the authority figure here and if you’ve decided that the pacifier is a thing of the past, that’s the way it is. Giving them a pacifier at this stage is only going to reinforce the idea that crying or fussing is an effective tool for getting their way.
Every toddler is obviously a unique individual, so use these guidelines in conjunction with your intuition, and within a few nights, maybe a week at the outside, your little one should be paci-free, and your whole family should be enjoying the benefits of those glorious, sleep-filled nights..