Most babies are born with a strong desire to suck. In fact, some babies suck their thumbs or fingers while they are in the womb. In addition to sucking for nutritional purposes, sucking can have a soothing effect on babies. For this reason, many parents use a pacifier to help their baby to fall asleep. Fortunately, for parents who want to break the pacifier habit, there are other ways to help a baby go to sleep.
Potential Problems with Pacifiers
While pacifiers certainly can be effective in helping a baby to go to sleep, using them can have some drawbacks. A baby who depends on pacifier use for sleep will often wake up in the middle of the night if the pacifier falls out of her mouth and won’t go back to sleep until she has it back. This can translate to mom or dad having to put the pacifier back into their baby’s mouth several times over the course of a night. Babies who use pacifiers may also be at a higher risk of developing middle ear infections. When a baby is on his back and sucking on a pacifier, it can interfere with the proper functioning of the Eustachian tube, which can result in an ear infection.
Benefits of Losing the Pacifier
In addition to reducing the risk of ear infections and pacifier dependency, learning to fall asleep without the pacifier has other benefits. If a baby doesn’t have a pacifier, he is forced to self-soothe. Learning to self-soothe plays an important part in developing healthy sleep habits. When a baby is able to fall asleep on his own, he is able to fall back to sleep if he wakes up during the night. Babies may self-soothe by sucking on the fingers, rocking back and forth, or making sounds.
Taking the Pacifier Away
There are several methods for stopping pacifier use during sleep time. One method is substitution. This involves taking the pacifier away and giving your baby an alternative comfort item. A small blanket or a special snuggly toy will often be accepted as a suitable replacement. Another method is stopping the pacifier use is cold turkey. If this method sounds too harsh, consider cutting the bulb of the pacifier so that suction is impossible. When the pacifier no longer works, your baby may lose interest in it.
Alternative Ways to Help Baby Get to Sleep
The Ferber Method is one way you can help your baby get to sleep without a pacifier. This method consists of having a consistent bedtime routine and putting your baby into his sleep space when he is drowsy but still awake. If your baby cries, go to him and let him know you are there by patting him or talking softly to him, but do not pick him up. After a few minutes, leave the room. If your baby is still crying, in three minutes, go back in. This is repeated until the baby falls asleep. Each night, the length of time before you go back in to comfort your baby is increased. Most babies respond to this method in three to five days. While you can rock your baby to sleep or drive him around in a car until he falls asleep as alternative to pacifier use, these methods will only require you to break another habit.
For breastfed babies, pacifier use can cause confusion and may interfere with breastfeeding because sucking on the breast and sucking on a pacifier are different. If you are nursing and your baby doesn’t seem like he is eating enough, you may wish to stop pacifier use immediately. If you are concerned about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, you may wish to reconsider getting your baby to sleep without the pacifier. Pacifier use has been linked to a reduction in the risk of SIDS.