A lot of parents who use soothers feel a twinge of guilt the first time they stick a pecifier in their baby’s mouth. However, dealing with a screaming infant in the grocery line or on a long car trip will make most parents try just about anything they can think of to calm the child down!
The truth is, it often works. Babies are born with the instinct to suck. They have limited means of expressing what they want and can’t let you know if they’re hungry, thirsty or in pain. Sucking soothes them and brings them comfort, which is why a baby will suck on just about anything you put in its mouth, whether it’s a bottle, breast, finger or toy.
But at a certain age, kids are more than capable of learning to self-soothe, and pecifier dependence can cause long-term problems. Many experts agree that soother use up until about age one is okay. Anything past age two and there are some worrying issues.
Here are some reasons you should consider ditching the soother once your child hits toddlerhood:
Soothers interfere with the consolidation of nighttime sleep. If your toddler uses one to fall asleep, she will most likely wake in the night and then not be able to get back to sleep until she can find it. Even if the child isn’t bothering you to help, there are still times when it’s causing a full wake-up for retrieval. While brief wake-ups are common in the night, when a child is soother dependent it often leads to fragmented sleep, which can make for a tired and cranky toddler the next day.
Pediatric dentists recommend eliminating soother use completely by age four, and limiting it by age two. Once your child loses his baby teeth, his adult teeth can be permanently affected by sucking on a soother. Overbites and crossbites can occur, which lead to problems with chewing, speech and appearance.
Studies are now linking pecifier use with recurring ear infections. In fact, children who use soothers regularly are up to three times more likely to develop ear infections.
Around the age of one, kids enter into their speech development phase. This means they will start trying on sounds and words and will often babble to themselves and others while they learn this new skill. If they constantly have a soother in their mouths, they might be less likely to practice talking.
Also, constant soother use can make it harder for a child’s tongue and lip muscles to develop normally, according to Patricia Hamaguchi, a speech-language pathologist and author of Childhood, Speech, Language, and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know.
So how do you convince your child to give up the soother?
Some kids will start to phase it out themselves as they develop other coping skills around the age of two. But some won’t give it up without a fight!
Over a three-day period, you can start to wean your child off the soother by telling him he can only use it in the house. Whenever you go outside the house, tell him it stays behind until you come back. Next tell him he can only have it during a period of time during the day. So for example, only for 30 min during his/her TV time. Tell him that on the third day, it will be time to say goodbye to the soother for good, and then make sure you stick to the plan.
Be prepared for a few tantrums and tears, but don’t give in. I have found that parents are often far more worried about the idea of taking it away, than the actual reality of it. Most children are over it within a day or two.