A baby feels calm when her natural sucking instinct is satisfied. Some babies suck their thumbs, some nurse frequently, some suck on fingers or a blanket, and many use pacifiers.
When parents first offer a pacifier to their child, they see how tranquil she becomes and how convenient the pacifier is to use. It’s an easy, concrete, accessible way to soothe a crying baby. Parents can offer it in the car, leave it in the crib so their child can suck on it as she falls asleep, or, as she gets older, leave it near her toys so she can use it whenever she wants.
There’s nothing wrong with a pacifier, and a child who uses one is not harmed. Yet, despite growing acceptance, some people believe pacifiers symbolize dependency and immaturity, especially when used by a child past infancy. A parent can easily feel under attack when told, “That thing looks awful hanging out of her mouth,” or “She’s much too old to use a pacifier.”
Parents look to their pediatrician for advice and support on all aspects of childrearing, including pacifier use, but there are pediatricians who oppose pacifiers. One mother never let her child take her pacifier along on doctor visits because her pediatrician disapproved. It was easier for this mother to hide what she did rather than face ridicule or a challenge to her parenting beliefs.
Aside from dealing with outside criticism, many parents have their own doubts. When and how will their child ever give up such a comforting and satisfying object?
Children do give them up. Gradually, and in spite of the strong attachment you may now observe, your child will limit her use of the pacifier to times when she’s tired or feeling stress. By age two, she may wean herself completely from it, or at least let you know, by rejecting it at times or accepting it less often, that she’s ready to stop using it.
However, if you decide to take your child’s pacifier away before she shows a willingness to give it up on her own, do so gradually over several weeks. If she’s really not ready to give the pacifier up, she may begin sucking her thumb, blanket, or other object, so be prepared to offer substitutes such as juice, extra holding and cuddling, or gentle patting on her back as she goes off to sleep.