The (Potential) Problem with Pacifiers

Pacifier, Paci, or Dummy…whatever you call this magical tool- pacifiers always are one of the first items go on that baby registry.  There are many opinions about pacifiers out there from many different perspectives as extended use of a pacifier has many many implications when it comes to speech, palate formation, oral development, and diet. However, for the purpose of this blog, I am going to focus on the area that I know best: SLEEP.  

Pacifiers & Newborns

The one stage of life I am all for pacifiers is in the newborn stage.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the use of pacifiers as a protective factor against SIDS (note: NOT using a pacifier does not increase the risk of SIDS). Remember, If the baby falls asleep and spits the pacifier out, it does not need to be reinserted.  

Fresh babies love to suck- it is extremely soothing to them.  Using a pacifier can help soothe a fussy baby during the ‘witching hour’, help extend naps/night sleep, and give poor mom a break from breastfeeding around the clock.   

While not all babies accept a pacifier, if your baby does, it’s a great tool to use in these early days and I am all for it! However, this ‘honeymoon phase’ of pacifier use tends to end once your baby reaches around 4 months of age.

That middle stage (4-8ish months)

While pacifiers can help extend sleep and calm those newborn babies, it can all change after the 4 month regression.

Sleep fundamentally changes at 4 months.  Your baby will now be cycling through 4 stages of sleep (instead of just 2) and will experience truly light sleep for the first time.  The result? Significantly more wake ups throughout the night. 

What does this have to do with pacifiers? A lot.  If your baby uses a pacifier to fall asleep, he or she will most likely need that pacifier in their mouth as they get into that light stage of sleep or when they (naturally) wake between sleep cycles.  The result? You will need to be putting that pacifier back in their mouths for them multiple times throughout the night, as they cannot yet do it themselves.  

I remember going into my 4 month-old baby’s room 30+ times per night to simply put that pacifier back in.  In these cases when you are playing the pacifier game all night long, it is my recommendation to drop that pacifier because it is clearly not helping.  Your baby is relying on that pacifier so much to put them to sleep that it is severely affecting their quality of sleep (and yours too!)

Older babies & toddlers

Once your baby learns to put the pacifier back in their mouths, the night wakings will improve, right!?! Maybe.  Here’s the deal with pacifiers: They actually encourage lighter sleep and more full (and probably longer) wakes throughout the night.

As your older baby or toddler transitions into light sleep throughout the night, their mind is going to be thinking about how it needs that pacifier, so your baby or toddler will actually wake themselves to search the crib for that pacifier.  Some babies will go back to sleep quickly after that, but for others it can take them a while to go back to sleep because that arousal (to find the paci) was too stimulating.  This can also be a problem in the early mornings when they’ve had a lot of sleep already, when sleep pressure is naturally low.  

The moral of the story: IF your older baby or toddler is having trouble with sleep (lots of wakeups, long wakeups, or too early of mornings) AND they take a pacifier (even if they can reinsert it themselves), I HIGHLY recommend dropping that pacifier. I know it’s scary, but sleep WILL ultimately improve without it.  Your kiddo will not need to wake to search for that pacifier and will be able to transition between sleep cycles seamlessly without it.  

It may take a few days to adjust to not using it- but dropping the paci will be worth it in the end (for all of you!).

If dropping the pacifier is terrifying to you- please reach out.  My sleep plans include step-by-step instructions on how to get your baby through the transition of dropping the pacifier so you can all get the sleep you so desperately need.    


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