Pacifier Use

admin February 3, 2010

I know using pacifiers has been hotly debated. I’ve debated plenty with myself. But, with the recent experience we had, I felt I should weigh in.

On another blog I recently read, someone said “If you have only one kid and that kid slept well since birth, I don’t want your advice [on how to get kids to sleep].” Well, I sure don’t fall into that category, since I have two kids — one who started (usually) sleeping through the night at 22 months and one who, at 5.5 months, still wakes up 6 – 8 times per night! Which, I recently realized, I actually trained him to do….

Enter the pacifier debate.

My first took a pacifier for only about 2 months. She took it while I was pumping and bottle feeding the first 6 weeks, but once I got her directly on the breast, she really didn’t want much to do with it, so we just kind of took it away. This didn’t stop her from having “trouble” sleeping (though what was ‘trouble’ to me then, how I’d wish for it now!! She woke usually once per night until 8 months, when allergies started to become an issue — another story for another time — but I was under the impression then that babies over 2 months old slept 8 straight hours…hahahahaha).

Now, Daniel…I didn’t want to give him a pacifier. Really. But when he was only a couple days old, Ben got up and took him after his last “night” feed (7 am or so) and then let me sleep in and recover. When Daniel woke up and cried, Ben gave him a pacifier instead of bringing him to me to feed. This never caused nipple confusion or anything like that, so I let it go on. Then it became…we used the pacifier to help him fall asleep at night (because, after all, once he was *mostly* asleep he’d spit it out and sleep the rest of the night fine without it). Then we used it to keep him quiet for just a minute while Bekah was whining, dinner was burning, and I was trying to fold laundry all at once. Then in the car when we couldn’t get to him right away. Then any time we wanted him to go to sleep or be quiet, assuming he was fed, changed, etc. It wasn’t — usually — my automatic reaction to just stick a pacifier in his mouth, unless I was only a minute from finishing up a chore and he was ready to eat too soon.

But, despite my desire not to use a pacifier, we started to use it too much. And then, worse, we started to actually train him to wake up and require a pacifier to get back to sleep. I didn’t realize this until today, exactly how it had happened, but now I see it. (We’ve already taken the pacifier away, the morning of Dec. 29.) I’m going to explain it so you understand my position on pacifier use.

At 3.5 months, Daniel started a huge growth spurt. He was fussy, and he woke every 1.5 – 2 hours wanting to eat. It was a rough week, but I got him and fed him every time. Once he settled — precariously — into a new nightly schedule (eating at 11, 2, 5, and sleeping with me starting at 6 until we got up), I occasionally gave him a pacifier to help him settle after eating if he was acting fussy. This continued for weeks. Months, now. Then, by 5 months, I was starting to get VERY impatient with the waking-every-hour act, so I started giving him his pacifier if it hadn’t been at least 2 hours, sometimes 3, since his last feeding. I was also giving him a pacifier during the day if it hadn’t been at least 2 hours since his last feeding (I never let him go more than 2 hours if he was fussy). Most of the time, this bought me an extra 30 – 40 minutes before he’d need to eat. This seemed like a good deal — for awhile.

Then, in the last week (of December), Daniel has woken every 30 – 40 minutes almost all night. He always wants the pacifier and has an impossible time settling back to sleep without it. Sometimes I even try to feed him and he gets mad…because he isn’t hungry, he only wants the pacifier. By giving it to him when he was hungry before, it taught him he could — and should — suck to fall asleep, and that he needed his pacifier. So every time his sleep lightened, or he was uncomfortable, he’d want his pacifier back. This meant sometimes I was looking at the clock at 12, 1, 2, 3…and wondering if I’d actually gotten any sleep or if I’d just imagined it. We even tried putting him in his own room, hoping that without our sleep noises, he’d sleep better. Nope — same schedule. Each night he was back in my room, either in his bassinet or my bed by 2 or 3 am, when I got tired of running up and down the hall (average: 5 trips to his room before I brought him into mine).

It had to stop. I got so sleep deprived, it was ridiculous. But I realized I really did teach him to
wake at night. I used the pacifier as a soother, to make him sleep longer, so he began to associate it with falling asleep. I had used it during the day or night during growth spurts, when he really did need a little snack or “top off” just 30 minutes after his last meal. So, he wasn’t getting quite enough to eat during the day sometimes (despite feeding mainly demand) and he was making up for it at night…then getting into the habit of needing the pacifier to settle back to sleep. Vicious cycle.

So we went cold turkey on the pacifier. No more. On the first day, we put him down for a nap with a crib toy he can turn on and off himself (i.e. he doesn’t require my help at night to soothe) and he fell asleep! No fussing! (We’ve been reading the “No Cry Sleep Solution” by Elizabeth Pantley, and are using ideas from it, plus doing some things of our own.) Later that day he got so tired before his next nap that Ben gave him the pacifier to help him settle (even cuddled in my arms, at my breast, he just screamed and thrashed). Oh well. After that, he fell asleep twice in the car without a pacifier. Then, our biggest success, after he’d nursed before bedtime, he fell asleep in my arms. Typically he’d continue to root at me or fuss and squirm until he was given a pacifier. This time he looked around; at the TV, then at me; then he tried to suck his fingers and the blanket, and eventually just relaxed himself and gently drifted off. This was REALLY great.

After that, well…he did spend about half the night sleeping with me. But it was really hot in my room and once I realized how much and made him cooler he slept better on his own. The next day I fed him more often, and gently rocked him for five minutes or so before laying him down (awake) for a nap. He simply sucked on his hands or arm (gave himself a hickey, lol) and played with his crib toy before falling quietly asleep.

I have hope that we will break this sucking-to-sleep problem and that within a couple of weeks, he’ll be sleeping quietly in 4-hour stretches (and later, longer, but hey, 4 straight hours would be FABULOUS right now!) in his own room and he won’t need settled in between. I think he’ll also be able to go down for naps quietly and easily, just the way he did today. I also feel much more in tune with him and his needs now that I don’t have a pacifier to use — even as a last resort.

Side note on sleeping: It really IS possible to re-train your baby to sleep well without ANY crying. You don’t have to “Ferberize” the baby or use any form of cry-it-out, modified or otherwise. I realized that by trying to be super-responsive to Daniel’s needs, I had trained him to wake too often. I also realized that I could gently undo it without leaving him to cry. I was so torn for so long because I really WANTED to respond to his every need, but I also needed more sleep! This gentle, absolutely no-cry sleep solution (you can find much more in Pantley’s book) really works and works with the baby’s needs, not against them for the parents’ convenience.

So, my opinion on pacifiers? If you can possibly avoid it, just don’t use them. There will be kids that do just fine with them and sleep through the night and don’t care if they drop them. There will be kids who scream and scream unless they’re given one, especially kids suffering from colic (if that’s your baby…investigate food allergies as a possible cause, otherwise, I am very sorry). And I know what all the research says…”it helps
prevent SIDS”…”it causes kids to need braces”…etc. I don’t need to summarize that for you here.

I think that using pacifiers, no matter how well you intend to use them (as I did), it’s easy to fall into “just take this for one minute while I finish this…” or “I know you’re tired, just take it and go to sleep” etc. If you must use them, take them away by 3 months or your baby will get used to it. I think you will find yourself a better and more responsive parent if you don’t use the pacifier and have to find alternate, more hands-on ways to soothe your baby.

This is coming from hard-earned experience and many lost nights of sleep. There is no judgment here. Just what I have learned through having two different children and two different experiences.

Do you use pacifiers? Why or why not?

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  1. Interesting thoughts. I totally understand what you mean about the sucking to sleep cycle and we use a pacifier for that reason. If it wasn't the pacifier, then it would've been my boobs and quite frankly, they couldn't take it. Now maybe it would be different if Liea hadn't had so many food problems that made her so fussy that she couldn't fall asleep peacefully, but I don't know.

    I don't mind the pacifier, she's not completely reliant on it all day (just for sleep) and she can find them on her own at night. We always made sure to have a ton of them in bed with her so she can "root" for it herself. Fact is, even with a pacifier, she still just wants to be with us so she's not sleeping through the night anyway.

    To go back and do it again, IF I had a child that did NOT have food allergies, I would really try to nurse before sleep, not nurse TO sleep. I think that is really our issue right now at 18 months old. I would do that and try to lay them down awake like you're doing with Daniel.

    So much to learn… too much!!! 🙂



  2. Around here, I haven't seen a baby without a pacifier in ages. Even brand-new through 2 month old babies are just 'plugged' any time they start to make a sound, instead of trying to figure out what the actual problem is. I've even seen kids that try to spit it out purposely (especially younger ones, closer to newborn than a year) because they just don't want it but mom just keeps sticking it in there because it's easier in public than figuring out why baby is fussy.


  3. Hey Kate! It's Melissa- Maddie never used a paci, didn't want one and we didn't see any reason for one. She like to chew/suck on blankets instead and that's what she did to fall asleep. Ben, however, does use a pacifier. He is only allowed to have them in his bed. I notice that he spits them out after falling asleep and doesn't have them in even an hour after he's fallen asleep. I totally understand why you "pulled the plug" on Daniel's pacifier. I personally can't stand seeing kids- especially 2 and 3+ out in public with a pacifier in their mouth. Plus they cause problems with teeth formation and kids may need painful and expensive procedures to have the roof of their mouth expanded.

    Anyway, there is my two cents!


  4. We used them. All my babies had a strong need for non-nutritive suckling. My boobs could not tolerate it with the first kiddo, BF alone was a nightmare. Second kiddo wouldn’t BF (long story, I failed pumping too) so did all bottle feeds and used a pacifier. 3rd kiddo BF the best/longest and wanted nothing to do with a pacifier, but sucks his thumb instead. I wish he would have used a pacifier!! We are struggling to stop the thumb sucking at 4 years old. Quitting pacifiers by 2 years old on the other 2 was a breeze! No one has any dental problems so far. I do worry about the little one and the prolonged thumb sucking though! Any one have any advice on how to stop it?? Can’t cut off his thumbs… Lol.


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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