WHETHER it is to calm a screaming baby or to lull him to sleep, many parents rely on the pacifier. And while this soother may seem harmless, paediatrician Dr Anona Griffith at Gateway Plaza, Old Harbour, points out that some children develop an unhealthy addiction which can be quite difficult to wean.
“The use of pacifiers, also known as dummies or binkies, has been a controversial topic over the years. Some of the concerns surrounding the use of the pacifier include a negative effect on breastfeeding, an increase in misalignment of teeth and dental caries, and the occurrence of otitis media (ear infections),” according to Dr Griffith.
But some people feel that the benefits of pacifiers outweigh the negative outcomes. She points out that they have analgesic (pain-relieving) effects, contribute to shorter duration of hospital stay in preterm infants, as well as a reduction in the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
With the benefits being so tempting and the binky obviously your child's best friend, it is no wonder that so many parents allow tots to keep on sucking their pacifiers even as toddlers – a practice which often leads to dependency.
This, according to clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell, is sometimes characterised by a child's inability to remain calm without it, being unable to sleep without it in his/her mouth, a desire to chew on it as opposed to sucking on it, or insisting on constantly having it in his/her mouth even when in a happy place.
To avoid this, she suggests that parents should stop pacifier use at the six-month mark. This should be done gradually, and all caregivers should know of it to ensure consistency and to avoid confusion. What is more, she says the child is not old enough to try to negotiate or sit and think about it or express much displeasure.
But when the horse has already gone through the gate, Dr Bell recommends the following strategies that could guide you in helping your child to ditch the binky:
Consider the age of the child
The age of the child that you are weaning is very important. In the case of toddlers, they are forming their personalities and learning new experiences, so you have to approach weaning with extreme caution. Be sure that other big events such as potty training are not happening at the same time.
If the child is a baby, you can start by withdrawing the binky when he/she does not need it – for example, when the child is at play, or when you are playing or reading to the child before bedtime. The child is in a happy place, so you can start taking it away.
Put something bad-tasting on it
Some mothers rub aloe vera on their nipples when they want to wean their breastfeeding children. You can be sure that by applying this to the pacifier, you will discourage the child from sucking on it.
Reduce use of pacifiers during the day
It's much easier to initiate pacifier weaning during the day, because there are a number of distractions such as toys, songs, and sounds. It is easier to take the pacifier away when the child is distracted than at night when the child just wants to sleep. Even with daytime weaning, it's important to allow the child to use it in a stressful situation. In addition, keep the pacifier away as much as possible at nights when the child is distracted.
Use the 'big kid' talk
If there is one thing a child loves more than a pacifier or candy, it is hearing that they are big and strong and not babies anymore. Tell them that their favourite superhero or friend has given up the pacifier. Children are not just competitive, they want to be seen as responsible and mature.
Even as you introduce other sleep aids or self-calming techniques or toys, your child is still likely to fuss, and as irritating as it may be, giving up on something you long depended on can be stressful. You don't want to make this worse by displaying little or no patience.
Sell them the idea of a new sleeping partner
Kids love teddy bears, especially when they're soft, colourful and comfy. Perhaps if you get a teddy they like, it's possible you could trade the pacifier for the teddy. For an added advantage, some parents use stories involving their favourite superheroes and cartoon characters to sell the idea of trading pacifiers.
Some toddlers are more difficult than others, which means that when you take the pacifier away they simply won't stop crying. Once you have explained what you are doing, you may have to exercise tough love and prepare yourself to live through kicking, screaming and tantrums. The truth is, if you give in to their crying with the aim of starting the process at another time, they may push you into a corner because they will be convinced that once they throw a tantrum, you will give in.