Should My Baby Use A Pacifier?
If you’ve ever had a 15-minute discovery call with me, you’ll know that one of the first questions I ask when I’m gathering information about your child’s sleep situation is, “Does your child use a pacifier?” You’d be shocked at how many people begrudgingly and seemingly shamefully admit that yes, their child uses one.
I always get a little chuckle out of this; it’s like you think you’re divulging some dirty secret by telling me your child uses one. But guess what? I don’t mind pacifiers! Now, like many other things in life, I believe there is a time and place for pacifiers, but if your infant has used or is using one, please don’t be ashamed!
Pacifiers can be super helpful in certain situations. Babies are born with a strong sucking reflex which is a useful tool when adjusting to wild and crazy life outside of the womb. If your little one is screaming in the grocery line, pacifiers can help keep the peace. Pacifiers can also be helpful in extending those pesky short naps that newborns tend to have.
That being said, for many babies, pacifiers can quickly turn from helpful tool to pesky sleep prop and negatively impact to their ability to sleep through the night.
What is a sleep prop?
If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ve probably heard me use the term “sleep prop” a time or two, but if not, a sleep prop essentially is anything external that your baby thinks they need in order to fall asleep. Sleep props can include breast or bottle-feeding to sleep, rocking, bouncing, being held, or even playing with a parent’s hair or fingers.
Is the pacifier a sleep prop?
Even if your child is one of the unicorns who can take a pacifier at bedtime and not make a peep until morning, chances are their sleep is still fragmented. If your child uses a pacifier to fall asleep, they will most likely wake in the night in order to replace it. Even if they do not need you to replace it for them, it will still interrupt their sleep cycle when they have to wake up, find it, and put it back in their mouth. This can lead to increased daytime fatigue and all the physical, emotional, and behavioral issues that come with it!
Why are sleep props problematic?
We all sleep in cycles that are comprised of stages ranging from light sleep to deep sleep. In between cycles we have a brief wake-up and scan our environment to make sure it is the same as it was when we fell asleep at bedtime. If it’s not, this can cause a full-blown wake up in order to “fix” the situation.
It would be just like if you woke up to find your pillow on the ground. You’d probably reach over the side of the bed, retrieve it, and settle back to sleep. If your pillow was still on your bed, you might just roll over and fall back to sleep, never remembering it in the morning.
Babies are extra sensitive to changes in their sleep environment. So, what if you had bounced or fed your baby to sleep? What if they didn’t know how to replace the pacifier and needed you to do it for them? Or maybe they know how, but now that they’re up, they’d like you to hold them for a while just like you do at bedtime. Now, a very normal but otherwise brief wake between sleep cycles has turned into an hour-long middle-of-the-night party and no one gets the rest they need.
Ditching the pacifier
Many of the families who reach out to me for help with their baby’s sleep choose to ditch the pacifier in conjunction with sleep training. Big changes are about to be made anyway, so might as well add one more to the mix.
While there are certainly more gradual ways of giving up the pacifier like limiting the pacifier use to only sleep times or even just at night, I find that it’s most effective to give them up “cold turkey”. This is an efficient way for all age groups, and while it may cause a few tears (as all change does) I have found that many parents are more anxious about the idea of taking it away rather than the reality of it. Most children adjust within a few days.
I am confident that your baby will be able to learn to sleep without a pacifier in just a few nights, too! But if you need help ditching it for good, Oh Baby is here for you! You can schedule a complimentary 15-minute discovery call to learn more about our programs and how together we can get your whole family sleeping through the night for life!
If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!