Can your baby sleep with a pacifier or should you get rid of it?
The opinion amongst sleep trainers regarding pacifiers is really clear: sleep training and pacifiers don't go hand in hand. The reason behind it is the fear that your baby will become attached to a sleep prop they cannot use alone, at least for the first couple of months. Meaning, whenever the pacifier falls out they will need your help to insert it back. And that might result in disrupted nights.
But is that really true? From my experience, a pacifier can be a very, very, very helpful tool. So before you continue reading, make sure to pop the dummy right back into your little one's mouth and enjoy the silence. Also how cute is it to watch that little bug suck on that thing.
Yes, pacifier weaning a toddler in the future can be a fight, just like tantrums, separation anxiety, and wrongly cut food. But it is also an incredibly helpful soothing aid not only during sleep but also when your baby is ill, unwell, or like my babies hate car rides and cannot be soothed with anything else. I remember when my second born had a high fever for several days when he was 18 months old. For two days he was at my breast all day long. How I wished he had used a pacifier.
So a pacifier is not necessarily a no-go generally or when it comes to baby sleep. Before deciding if you want to ditch it or not, consider all the aspects. Because the truth is while some babies may experience nightly issues with the pacifier, there are plenty of other babies that don't. So you explicitly need to figure out for your situation and your baby what will work best for you.
Newborns and pacifiers
A helpful soothing tool
As beautiful as the newborn phase is, it is equally as exhausting. Sometimes it is just about surviving the day. Not only is postpartum a real challenge, but your newborn might also experience different kinds of discomfort. Overstimulation, colic, reflux, or purple crying to name a few. All that combined with your new role as a parent can be overwhelming and really tiring for the whole family. This is where the pacifier comes as the savior of the day. Babies have a strong sucking reflex and it helps them calm down. Some babies even suck their thumbs or fingers in utero. I tell all parents of newborns that the pacifier is such a helpful tool during these days and they should not worry about creating a habit or too strong attachment to the dummy. In the first four months, your baby does not develop any strong sleep associations until at least 6 months.
Are pacifiers safe for newborns?
You can safely give your newborn a pacifier during sleep. Besides the soothing effect it has on babies, there are other benefits as well. Several studies found a reduced risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) when using a pacifier. Furthermore, it can help ease reflux as it produces more saliva as a natural antacid.
Breastfeeding and pacifiers
The American Academy of Pediatrics generally recommends waiting with the pacifier until your baby has figured out nursing well enough to avoid nipple confusion. Sucking on a nipple is different than sucking on a pacifier. Therefore, a breastfed baby may develop difficulties latching. Especially for preterm infants breastfeeding can be a struggle in the beginning. But that is not always the case. One study even suggests that a pacifier can help with exclusive breastfeeding. Just observe your baby's breastfeeding behavior if it gets impacted by the dummy.
Pacifiers for sleep
As if parents were not stressed enough, they are now often worrying if a pacifier at night will form any bad habits. Because that's what you read in a lot of articles. But there is no need to stress.
First of all, babies wake at night. It is normal behavior and your baby does not necessarily wake because of the pacifier. In fact, a pacifier can help babies fall back to sleep faster. If your baby let's say wakes hourly, then first make sure it's not due to any kind of discomfort. If you really believe it's because of the pacifier then you can address it. Also, most babies can reinsert the pacifier themselves around 8 months.
Otherwise, a pacifier is a wonderful tool to help your baby fall asleep at bedtime and back to sleep after night wakings. Even more so, it can help you eliminate night feedings or even during the weaning process later on because your baby already loves their paci.
When to lose it
There can be certain situations where you might consider letting go of the pacifier. That is mostly the case when your baby always wakes when the pacifier falls out of their mouth and they rely on you to put it back. Be aware, that falling asleep without a pacifier might take much longer because your baby has to get used to other soothing techniques that might not be as effective. Sucking is extremely soothing for babies and helps them fall asleep fast.
You can also ditch the pacifier only for naps and nighttime sleep but still use it as a comforter during the day. You can even still keep it during naps if your baby still sleeps for a good chunk and wakes up happy.
If your child is over two years you should also consider slowly getting rid of the pacifier. Several research studies state the risk of misalignment of teeth if used for too long. It also has been linked to tooth decay.
How to use the pacifier as part of gentle sleep training
The question we all have been asking is: how can you sleep train a baby with a pacifier? Here are some ways to integrate the pacifier:
(Note: we don't use any sleep training method that integrates crying or separation)
- Let your little one have their pacifier until they fall asleep while introducing another soothing technique. If your baby is falling asleep in their crib already, then you can use stroking or patting for example. You will use the pacifier and your new method simultaneously for 1-2 weeks until your baby creates a new sleep association. Then you will remove the pacifier gradually. Meaning, that first, you will remove it right before they fall asleep. This way they will already get used to falling asleep without it. Then you will attempt removing it sooner and sooner until your baby only settles with another method.
- If you want to reduce night wakings you will apply the same method. Settle back to sleep using the pacifier and an additional soothing method. Later you will completely skip the pacifier.
- If your child can put the pacifier in their mouth themselves, get a few of them and scatter them in their bed, preferably after they have already fallen asleep. Sometimes children throw them out of the bed as part of a game. Buy pacifiers they can easily find even when it's dark, e.g. pacifiers that slightly glow. If you notice your little one playing the throw-them-out game at night as well, only use the pacifier for falling asleep.
- If you are feeding or nursing your baby to sleep the pacifier can be a helpful transitioning tool to move on from feedings. After your baby had their feed and you notice they are only sucking for comfort, slightly wake them and replace the bottle or breast with the pacifier. This way they will learn to fall asleep with the pacifier instead of the bottle or breast. Over time you will reduce the time of the feed and insert the pacifier sooner. At some point you will give the last feed of the day in another room and then settle to sleep with the pacifier only.
There is absolutely no need to stress or worry if you are using the pacifier. There are many benefits to it. They help babies relax and fall sleep. It can help especially a fussy baby to calm. They are safe and even help prevent sleep-related deaths in newborns. I am personally a fan of pacifiers as they are a powerful tool to soothe them and can make life easier in many ways for newborns and older babies.
If you find yourself in a situation where the pacifier disrupts your baby's and your sleep at some point you can sill consider letting it go gently.