Is the pacifier a prop? Can it help or hinder sleep? I bet you'll be a little shocked to hear my professional opinion on the topic!
Pros and cons exist for the pacifier, and I actually recommend them in some scenarios!
A study published in Scientific American explained the health benefits of a pacifier for a young baby stating "A baby who sleeps on his stomach without a pacifier has a 2.5 times greater risk of SIDS," (source: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pacifier-greatly-reduces/). So, if your young baby is a higher risk for SIDS, such as being premature, then it would make sense to really encourage a pacifier.
Sucking to soothe can help young babies fall asleep more quickly, reducing overfatigue and allowing for longer naps or easier bedtimes. This can be a huge benefit for fussy newborns who may just need this simple prop to encourage better sleep habits and less sleep deficit. As the baby gets older, the baby is more likely to have an easier time learning to sleep independently and return to sleep overnight without a pacifier. Some naps are better than no naps when your baby is little, so if the pacifier helps- then take that help!
That being said, as baby gets older, this help can turn into a hindrance. We know that in order for sleep to improve, we need babies to learn how to fall asleep with a strategy they can replicate overnight when they rouse between sleep cycles, as we all do. And that if a strategy isn't available (i.e. baby needs to be rocked to fall asleep) then baby won't be able to go back to sleep without that strategy returning. So, the pacifier challenge starts to interfere with sleep when baby can fall asleep with the pacifier, but then the pacifier falls out during deeper sleep when our body relaxes and those cheek muscles no longer hold the pacifier in. When baby wakes between sleep cycles and the pacifier isn't in the mouth, baby panics and needs you to run in and deliver it again! And now we have broken, less restorative sleep, and a baby who may be fully awake and may struggle to return to sleep, even with the pacifier back in the mouth. This is absolutely a sign that your baby needs to learn how to sleep without the pacifier if you want better sleep to develop.
Ok, but wait, you said that pacifiers reduce SIDS risks! Can I take away the pacifier? Yes, you can. If your baby is healthy and thriving then consider that many babies never take a pacifier at all! No matter how hard parents try to encourage one! I for one can attest to trying LONG AND HARD to encourage my Jorja to take a pacifier, and it just never happened! But she survived! My second daughter, she enjoyed her pacifier until 5-months of age, when we transitioned away from this tool, knowing that she needed to master her own self-led sleep strategies in order to continue to develop sustainable life-long sleep skills.
When should you transition? I'd encourage eliminating the pacifier as the baby comes out of the 4-month sleep regression by slowly reducing pacifier use as part of your child's sleep plan, between 5-6 months of age. I feel that around 5-months of age this is much easier to do that allowing baby to become more and more attached to their pacifier as an attachment/comfort item.
Struggling with an older child with pacifier related issues?
Or is your baby refusing to take a pacifier and sleep is a challenge? I can help!
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