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Integrating Sleep Science With Your Unique Parenting Style - Valuable Daily Support - Sleep Solutions That Work • Integrating Sleep Science With Your Unique Parenting Style - Valuable Daily Support - Sleep Solutions That Work • Integrating Sleep Science With Your Unique Parenting Style - Valuable Daily Support - Sleep Solutions That Work • Integrating Sleep Science With Your Unique Parenting Style - Valuable Daily Support - Sleep Solutions That Work

Pacifiers and Your Child’s Sleep

Pacifier, paci, soother, mute button, binky…I love them, and sometimes hate them. They are so helpful during the newborn phase, and sometimes exactly what your older baby or child needs for soothing. Like so many baby products, they are the absolute best when they are helpful.

The down side? Well there’s all of the many dollars you need to spend on updating your paci selection because they disappear like socks in the dryer. There’s the panic you feel when you’ve left home and the paci is missing. As children grow into toddlers and preschoolers, pacifiers also bring a risk for oral fixation, language delay, and misaligned teeth. Ugh.

As with many topics related to parenting, when to wean often comes down to personal choice and what areas you’re willing to offer your time and emotional energy. We can’t prioritize everything all at the same time. The right time is going to be different for different families.

Pacifier use may or may not negatively impact sleep. If it does not seem to impact sleep or hey, maybe it even supports sleep, then maybe there’s no problem. However, it is very common for pacifiers to come with a negative impact on sleep after the newborn phase when they are recommended.

Pacifiers can negatively impact sleep if a baby or child is always using a pacifier to fall asleep, but it is not always there when they wake up. Ideally, we want children (like adults) to fall asleep under the exact same set of conditions that will be present throughout the night until morning. Otherwise, their sleep is likely to be disrupted when they wake up in the middle of the night (while transitioning through natural sleep cycles), and discover that the pacifier is no longer in their mouth. Instead of seamlessly falling back to sleep, they will instead need to wake up fully to figure out a way to retrieve the pacifier and restore the sleep conditions they are familiar with.

Some families will do a “Paci Sprinkle” and leave up to 10 pacifiers in the crib to allow for easy reach, and others will leave a bowl of pacifiers within reach on a bedside table. These are both good options for families who want to allow their children to find the pacifiers independently in the middle of the night. If this allows your child easy access to middle of the night pacifiers and sleep is otherwise smooth, then consider these helpful solutions that will buy you time until you choose to support your child in weaning from the pacifier.

Some caregivers don’t mind restoring the pacifier for their child once or even twice in the middle of the night. If this works well for your family, and sleep is otherwise very smooth, then this is also another fine way to buy time until you choose to help your child wean from the pacifier.

Personally, as a parent of two paci loving children, I fully removed the soothers from both when they were just under age 2. I chose to keep the pacifier while they were babies because they already had strong independent sleep skills and only occasionally needed me to wake up in the middle of the night to help them find a missing pacifier. However, with both kids, when their second birthdays were approaching, I could already see the pacifier affecting their teeth, and I was ready to give my own emotional energy to those projects. I had been waiting for their language and comprehension skills to develop so that I could provide age appropriate preparation for the big change. In both cases I wasted a LOT of energy worrying about their big emotional reactions and tears. In both cases I was delighted to find they were totally ready. Not to say there were no tears because there were! But I was delighted to find their big feelings were MUCH less than I had expected, and I was overjoyed to have the pacifiers finally out of my life.

How to Wean with a Baby

If you are planning to sleep train your baby, I strongly recommend removing the pacifier right along with teaching independent sleep skills. The reason? Sleep will come together that much faster. If you’re sleep training the right way, you have a fully personalized and comprehensive sleep plan that addresses all of the ways you can make leaning into sleep as easy as possible for the whole family. You are already taking all of the steps to help them lean into deep and blissful consolidated nights of sleep. You might as well throw away the pacifier at the same time.

I learned this the hard way with my own son and with a few of my earliest clients. With my own son, when I was ready to support him in learning independent sleep skills as a 4 month old, I decided to let him keep the pacifier. It went well at first, but there was just one piece that was not coming together…UNTIL I gathered the emotional strength to remove the pacifier at bedtime. That very night everything came together and stayed together. It all clicked. He simply had a very strong pacifier sleep association that was disrupting his sleep. He would fall asleep easily with the pacifier, but when he woke up in the middle of the night and the pacifier was no longer in his mouth, he had to wake up fully to look for a replacement. This regular night waking was enough to disrupt sleep in other areas like a way too early morning. Once I allowed him to practice falling asleep without the pacifier in his mouth, I also gave him the skill and confidence to fall right back to sleep in the middle of the night and early morning – because he did not need to wake fully to restore any missing conditions. This is very common!

The trick is removing the pacifier from the bedtime routine so they can practice falling asleep at bedtime without the pacifier. Ideally, the pacifier should be removed entirely to make the process as easy as possible.

Now you might remember that I had to wean my son again when he was older as well. I did end up giving the pacifier back several months later to help with soothing during times of heavy sickness, and he fell right back into his passion for his paci – although with better sleep skills. Sometimes we just need to bring in all of the soothing tools we have!

How to Wean with a Toddler

When working to improve independent sleep skills with a toddler, I may or may not recommend removing the pacifier along with sleep training. This depends on the individual family, child, sleep struggle, and relationship the child has with the pacifier. Oftentimes though, I will find a way to keep the pacifier for sleep training, and have recommendations for weaning separately after otherwise independent sleep skills are in place.

Paci Weaning Step 1:

Age appropriate preparation! Have a family meeting in advance to present your family’s goal of having strong and healthy teeth! Having strong and healthy teeth is important for eating yummy foods and telling silly stories. You, the caregivers, have been learning a lot about teeth, talking to the dentist, and you have learned that the pacifier is not good for teeth! Present the big goal of helping your child have fun during the day and sleep at night without the pacifier.

Paci Weaning Step 2:

Eliminate those pacifiers entirely from your home all at once and involve them in the process. You can have your child help you in collecting all of them, and help you put them in the trash, or pretend to gift them to a new baby.

Paci Weaning Step 3:

Follow through on the boundary and allow them to feel their big feelings once the realization hits that they are really gone. Validate, empathize, and hold the lovingly firm boundary that there are no more pacifiers anymore. Avoiding shaming them for wanting something they don’t truly need, and support them through their authentic feelings. Sleep might become more disrupted initially as they adjust to sleep without the paci. Stay consistent and use your healthy sleep tools to maintain or re-set on healthy sleep skills after 1-2 weeks.

How to Wean with a Big Kid

I may recommend a more gradual weaning method for older kids who are more likely to have a strong attachment to their favorite soothing tool. It’s likely to be a security item at this point and helps them to feel safe during other life changes. However, all children and families are different and sometimes faster is easier!

If you think your child will have an easier time with a quicker approach, use the steps outlined above for weaning a toddler.

If you are more comfortable with a gradual method, here is an example:

Paci Weaning Step 1:

Age appropriate preparation! Have a family meeting in advance to present your family’s goal of having strong and healthy teeth! Having strong and healthy teeth is important for eating yummy foods and telling silly stories. You have been learning a lot about teeth, talking to the dentist, and you have learned that the pacifier is not good for teeth anymore! Present the big goal of helping your child have fun during the day and sleep at night without the pacifier. Focus on one step at a time, and explain how you, their caregivers, are going to support them through it!

Paci Weaning Step 2:

The pacifier will only in the bedroom. The pacifier can be used at night and during naps or quiet time in the bedroom. If they feel they need to suck during the day, they are allowed to go to their bedroom to use the pacifier, but the pacifier does not leave that one room. This boundary has to be held lovingly firm in order to be helpful, and can be used for 1-2 weeks.

Paci Weaning Step 3:

The pacifier will only be used at night. No more pacifier use during the day because it’s not good for teeth. Talk about other soothing methods like hugs from their grownups, arts and crafts, reading books, playing outside, special stuffies, or meditation. Brainstorm ideas with them and actually practice, practice, practice before they are wanting their pacifier and having big feelings when it is not available. This boundary has to be held lovingly firm in order to be helpful, and can be used for 1-2 weeks.

Paci Weaning Step 4:

Hold another family meeting in the earlier part of the day and explain they are ready to say goodbye to their pacifier at night. It’s important for their teeth, and even though you know it will be hard, you know they are ready, they can do hard things, and that you will help them along the way just like always. Brainstorm ideas with them about what they might do at night instead of sucking on their pacifier. They might hug their favorite stuffy, stretch their body, and think about playing at the beach with grandma. Actually practice what it will feel like lying down at night without their pacifier. Expect that sleep might be disrupted while they adjust to sleeping without their familiar sleep association. Plan ahead for how to support them, knowing you can always reset healthy sleep skills when you’re ready. This boundary has to be held lovingly firm in order to be helpful, and can be used for 1-2 weeks.

Paci Weaning Step 5:

Celebrate your big kid and reset their healthy independent sleep skills if needed 🙂

Pacifiers are wonderful until they are not, and that’s going to be different for different children and different families. The most important thing to remember is that the right time to remove the pacifier is when you are ready to put the mental, physical, and emotional energy into holding new boundaries firmly and lovingly, so you can truly follow through and make the process as easy as possible for your child. If you’re not ready to hold a boundary firmly, you might as well let them enjoy their pacifier stress free until then. And when it is time? It will NOT be as hard as you’re expecting. When you’re ready to be lovingly firm, they will be ready to adjust, whether that’s sooner or later 🙂

If sleep is an issue in your baby, toddler, or big kid and you’re interested in a comprehensive and personalized sleep plan along with daily support from a very friendly and knowledgeable sleep consultant while you implement the plan, check out my sleep services, and schedule a free 15 minute discovery call to learn more.

~Happy Sleeping ~

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