Written by: Nicky Barker, Founder of Little Ones & Paediatric Sleep Specialist
Pacifiers (also called 'dummies'), like everything else baby-related it seems, are a great cause for controversy. The decision to use a pacifier is entirely up to you as parents and each baby is different in terms of their settling skills and their preference to use a pacifier or not.
There is no "best" age to introduce a pacifier; some babies have one from newborn, some when they're much older. Some babies have pacifiers for sleep only, some babies have a pacifier to help soothe them during the day.
Pacifiers can definitely be great in your baby sleep toolbox; equally they can start to wreak havoc with your little one's sleep a bit later on.
Here, we'll explore these situations and also provide you with a couple of solutions if you want to ditch the pacifier.
When pacifiers work best
The fact is, pacifiers are great settling tools for younger babies because sucking is extremely comforting. Babies younger than 3 months will resettle and move between sleep cycles a lot easier than older babies and won’t necessarily need the pacifier replaced every time they come out of a sleep cycle. This means a pacifier can be a great way to settle your baby to sleep at the start of each nap or overnight, without having a negative impact on their ability to stay asleep. For an overtired or overstimulated baby, a pacifier can really help calm them and assist them to sleep - this is especially effective if combined with other settling tools such as a swaddle, white noise and a dark room.
Closer to 7 or 8 months your baby will be able to learn to put the pacifier back in themselves, a skill crucial to them being able to sleep through the night with a pacifier. We REALLY recommend a product called a Sleepytot, which is a little comforter that has velcro paws you can attach pacifiers too, making it a lot easier for your baby to find and replace their own pacifier in the night.
When pacifiers become a nuisance
Once your baby is closer to 4 months (and beyond) if they are using a pacifier to go to sleep they might start needing it every time they wake between sleep cycles (45 minutes in the day and every 2 hours at night). This is a lot of pacifier runs! (See this blog for more information about how your baby's sleep changes at 4 months).
Until your baby is able to replace their own pacifier at around 7-8 months old, they will need YOU to replace it for them because they are relying on the pacifier to fall asleep, so much so, that they aren’t able to go back to sleep without it.
If it becomes a problem, 3-4 months is a good age to ditch the pacifier, unless you're happy to ride it out for a few more months until your baby can put it back in themselves.
What can also happen with using the pacifier at night is that it can actually mask genuine hunger - the sucking can trick babies' brain into thinking they are being fed. This can, in itself, lead to more night waking because your baby is genuinely hungry, rather than just waking for the pacifier.
Use of a pacifier can sometimes mean your baby is going to sleep during the day before they're actually properly ready for a nap - especially for younger babies. The sucking is such a strong sleep association it can mean your baby settles to sleep earlier than they should be, which can cause them to catnap due to not being tired enough for a decent sleep.
Should I get rid of the pacifier?
This is a question that doesn't have a very clear cut answer - everyone's situation will be different.
If you suspect the pacifier is starting to wreak havoc with your baby's sleep, watch this vid to see what you can do about it.
How do you get rid of the pacifier?
Firstly, you need to make sure your baby is following our Sleep Program. This guarantees they are ready for their naps at the perfect times - a baby who is over or under tired will NOT be easy to wean off the pacifier no matter what you do!
Next, ensure you’ve got other positive sleep associations in place to replace the dummy, such as a swaddle (or baby sleeping bag), white noise, a dark room, a cuddly or comforter or even a Lulla doll. Get our Baby Sleep Shhh track going (available on Spotify HERE) play it very loud or use a baby Shusher to help with settling.
For babies older than 6 months, any pacifier-ditching attempt will be very difficult and met with a LOT of protests because your baby is that much older. Your best bet for a baby in this age bracket is to teach them to replace their own pacifier and sticking with the pacifier for the next couple of years.
For babies under 6 months, we recommend using one of two methods, depending on how quickly you want the pacifier gone and the level of protesting you’re comfortable with. Both methods are explained in much more detail in our Sleep Programs.
Methods to get rid of a pacifier
This method works by taking away the pacifier completely. During this process, you might need to help your baby settle for their naps - no doubt they will be upset while they get used to not having a pacifier.
But don't worry, at every nap they will take less and less time to settle. It will take about 3 days to break the habit (sometimes sooner!) if you’re consistent in your approach. Our sleep programmes offer tips on how to do this in detail.
Here, you replacethe pacifier with another settling tool/sleep association such as patting. You then lose the pacifier, then wean off the patting. This 3-stage process takes a bit longer as it's more gradual and there are a few more steps than the quick method.
Once the pacifier has gone, you can still use it during the day to soothe your baby, as long as you've removed it from any association with sleep.
For more information about how to gradually reduce other sleep associations (like rocking or feeding to sleep), our Sleep Programs have several age-appropriate methods to guide you through this process.
To get your baby sleeping better, regardless of the pacifier CLICK HERE!
To check out the super cute Sleepytots available from our friends at Baby Toolbox CLICK HERE!
For more advice about baby sleep read Self settling: the truth and Sleep associations: what's all the fuss about?