From the time babies are born, the suckling motion comforts them. Babies suck on their mother’s breast or a bottle to gain nutrition and to feel safe and cared for. Babies have even been found to suck their thumbs in utero, and often find this habit again shortly after birth.
A pacifier is another tool that allows babies and small children to mimic the suckling motion, ultimately providing comfort and stability for the child. Because pacifiers can be very handy in keeping kids quiet and well behaved, they are often used regularly. Using a pacifier for babies and children of appropriate ages causes no harm. However, what about when the child begins to age? Most parents fear they’ll be ready to send their child off to school and will still be fighting the battle of the pacifier.
Babies truly do need to suck, and the general options are the thumb or fingers, a breast, or the pacifier. Parents should not need to feel guilty about allowing their child to use a pacifier if that is what is most comforting for the baby. Allowing babies to feel safe and calm is very important, and some babies truly benefit from the pacifier.
Parent educator Allison LaTona makes an interesting point about pacifiers when comparing them to thumb sucking. She suggests that children in the habit of using a pacifier can often have an easier time weaning from the habit, because the pacifier can be completely removed from the vicinity of the child, while thumb sucking can be much harder for a parent to regulate.
LaTona also suggests that children can be weaned off of pacifier use in different ways. Some parents prefer to collect all the pacifiers and have the child quit all at once, while other parents prefer to set boundaries at first. For example, they only allow the child to use the pacifier at night in the crib.
Most experts, including dentist Gina Gonzalez recommend weaning children off of pacifiers around age three and definitely by age four. Children who continue to use a pacifier at this age can experience a variety of dental and oral health issues, including protruding teeth and palate issues.