Bye-Bye Binky: Why and How to Wean From a Pacifier
Updated: Sep 21
Article by: Lori Beth Stewart, M.A., CCC-SLP
Hello! Today we will be talking about why it is important to work on weaning children from using a pacifier and sucking on their thumbs/fingers and some practical tips to make weaning possible. We know that weaning a child from these oral comforts can be very emotionally taxing on the child and on you as a busy parent. That is why we want to provide you with the research for motivation and some strategies to help you get through this difficult time. So, first we will discuss three reasons why your child will benefit from weaning from the pacifier/finger sucking, and then we will discuss three helpful strategies.
1. Sucking on pacifiers and fingers past a certain age changes dentition and overall oral structure, and can slow down the development of a mature swallowing pattern.
When your child is an infant, using a pacifier does not negatively affect their dentition or sucking pattern because sucking on the pacifier mimics what they would do when sucking from a bottle (Scanton, 2013). However, most experts recommend weaning from a bottle and the pacifier/finger sucking at least before the age of 2 years (Geddes, 2017). There are also several studies and articles that indicate weaning from the pacifier around 6-12 months of age is easier and less likely to have negative effects (Roth, 2020). Here at Texarkana Therapy Center, our Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) recommend you try and wean your child from the pacifier around 6-18 months of age and it is best to base your timeline on your own child’s development. For example, if they still don’t have any teeth by 12 months of age, then weaning is a little less urgent for that 12-month-old as compared to a 12-month-old who started cutting teeth at 6 months.
2. Using a pacifier has been linked to a higher risk for ear infections.
Multiple studies have indicated that pacifier usage increases an infant’s risk of contracting otitis media, or middle ear infections. One study’s results indicated that pacifier usage had a higher correlation to ear infections than mouth breathing and dental malocclusions (Niemelä, Uhari, & Hannuksela, 2004). Another study indicated that reducing pacifier usage could reduce the number of ear infections by 29% (Peck, 2000). Yet another study indicated that pacifier usage increased the risk of contracting ear infections by 50% (Greene, 2006).
3. If your child has something in their mouth at all times, then they are missing out on learning how to make sounds and talk with their mouth.
Oral play such as blowing raspberries, babbling, and even mouthing toys, is an important part of speech and language development. Babies need to play around with imitating speech sounds they hear or exploring what they can do with their oral structures before they can use words. Therefore, if they are sucking a pacifier, their thumb, or even from a sippy cup constantly, then they are missing out on the sensory and auditory input of oral play. I have personally seen several children over the age of two who came in for speech therapy and happened to be using a pacifier frequently. When they were able to wean from the pacifier, these children often began making huge gains in their speech and language development very quickly. It can be hard to tell how much the pacifier/finger sucking is holding your child back until you have some success with weaning.
How to wean from a pacifier or thumb sucking:
Now that we have discussed reasons why weaning is important, let’s talk about how to accomplish this. There is no guaranteed method for weaning because each child is motivated by different things and some kids will care much more about losing their pacifier than others will. That being said, here are some parent-approved methods for weaning from pacifiers and finger sucking.
1. If your child is younger than two you might be able to “quit cold turkey.” However, if they are older than two, you may need to wean more slowly.
Some moms that I have talked to have suggested that you can wean by first restricting usage to around 15 minutes every hour or so. Once that is no longer a battle you could move towards restricting the paci to something we use when sleeping (including naptime). After that, you may be able to restrict pacifier time to nighttime.
2. Provide a different comfort object to take the place of the pacifiers/finger sucking.
If the pacifier is a comfort object for your child, then finding a replacement might really help them with weaning. Since this new comfort object needs to be something comforting and important to your child, you will want to get your child involved in picking the right object. If your child is too young or unable to voice which toy is their favorite, then you can choose whatever toy he or she gravitates to the most. Also, if the pacifier serves as a teething tool/oral sensory input for your child, then there is a large amount of options that should provide similar comfort to their mouth, without the negative effects of sucking (search teether or chewelry).
3. Talk about saying “bye-bye” to the pacifier with your child.
You can take several different approaches when talking with your child about this transition. 1) You could talk about how big they have grown and how the pacifier is for babies, not for big boys and girls. 2) You could read a “bye-bye binky” book with your child (links below). 3) You could have a “Goodbye Binky” event for your child that you spend time preparing for and talking about beforehand.
Ultimately, the idea is that talking with your child will help them understand that it is time to start moving on from the baby stage and on into the next stage of learning and growing. Explaining this can make a major difference with some children. They may want to know why and/or they may be nervous about this change. Comforting them while talking about the issue directly may ease the burden on both you and your child.
Bye-Bye Binky Books
I hope that this post has helped give you some motivation and inspiration for why and how to tackle weaning your child from her or his pacifier. It is important to remember that your child’s progress with weaning may not be a linear one. During weaning, he or she will have good days and bad days just like the rest of us. Don’t get discouraged if she or he seems to regress a little, especially during or after getting sick. You are an awesome parent already, especially considering you are researching and trying to wean them from the pacifier.
~Lori Beth Stewart, M.A., CCC-SLP~
If you are not in therapy and you are wondering if your child may be falling in behind in the areas of speech and/or language, this webpage has developmental norms you can use to gauge where your child is in reference to other children their age. https://www.asha.org/slp/schools/prof-consult/norms/
We also have an online screening tool which you may find useful: