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The pacifier debate

Experts weigh in on benefits and downfalls of using a pacifier

The pacifier debate

You're functioning on three hours of sleep, tripping on an assortment of balls, blocks and action figures, desperate for a way to calm your screeching toddler. We've all been there. The solution for many parents? The pacifier, also known as, the binky. 

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No matter its name, many parents consider it a lifesaver. But how much to rely on the pacifier has been debated for decades.  For a bit of insight, we spoke with everyone from the mom in the mall to pediatricians in the Hudson Valley.  Let's put this debate to rest!

1.  What’s the rule? After speaking with parents and pediatric specialists, there was no specific rule for weaning your child off the binky-habit. Some weaned by age one, others beyond four. Some parents weaned their child and other parents had teachers aid in the weaning process.

“Babies need to suck until they’re 3 years old,” says Donna Brushi of New Baby New Paltz. “Pacifiers satisfy that need, making it difficult to wean.”  Brushi also believes, “It’s the parents’ job to wean their child when the child is ready, but teachers are a valuable tool for aiding in the weaning process because children behave differently for a teacher than they would a parent.”  

2. Does it affect a child’s teeth? According to pediatric dentist, Dr. Geri Lynn Waldman of Dolson Avenue Dental in Middletown, teeth begin to shift after about two years, which changes the structure of the bite. “Prolonged sucking can cause malformation such as an open bite, a cross bite or an over jet, where the front two teeth protrude out.” An open bite could cause a lisp and a tongue thrust habit, which could affect speech.

Don’t get upset if your child is still using a pacifier. If you’re still working on weaning from the pacifier, there is still good news! If you notice your child developing problems caused by the pacifier and you wean the child by age two, there's a good chance the teeth will self-correct. Helene Borbone, mother of two, recalls her daughter's long and loving relationship with her thumb that lasted well after 2 years old, “Now we're paying for three years of orthodontic work!”

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3. Should I limit pacifier use? According to Dr. Waldman, limiting pacifier usage to nap time and bedtime reduces the risk of malformations and may reduce the stress of weaning.  Limiting usage to sleep times also offers a straightforward way to wean your child off the pacifier for good. Only allow your child to use it during nap time and bedtime, then after two weeks, only offer the pacifier if your child asks for it.  For Nancy Guttormsen, mother of three from Yorktown, a pacifier meant a peaceful night. “My children used pacifiers for a few years, but only at night. It was the one thing that helped them get to sleep and allowed me some quiet time.”  

4. Can pacifier use prevent SIDs? The American Academy of Pediatrics recently updated their policy on preventing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They believe the use of a pacifier at night could help alleviate the threat of sudden infant death syndrome by preventing the child from falling into a deep sleep.  However, they warn pacifiers should not be reinserted if they fall out during sleep and should not be forced on infants who refuse them.

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5. Is weaning traumatic? If done during a stressful time, like first starting day care, then probably yes.  Day care is traumatic enough, and doing both simultaneously could be trouble. Allow your child time to get acclimated to day care since for most children, it's the first time they're away from mom and dad for an extended period of time. It could also be their first time dealing with new social interactions. After a bit, your child may opt for a “big kid” decision like trading the pacifier for a toy or even “donating” it.  

Nancy Anton is a freelance writer, artist and photographer.  She lives in Yorktown Heights with her husband, 3 sons, and two dogs.