Pacifier weaning doesn’t have to be as hard as you think. Whether the binky has control over your life or you want to be proactive with your baby, these steps, tips, and strategies will give you everything you need to get your baby off the pacifier.
With my first son, I was terrified of the binky, and so I never gave him one. I had been working for years as a pediatric OT at that point, mainly with kids under 3, and nearly daily, I witnessed the binky or pacifier battles that ensued in many of the homes that I walked into.
Then, came my second, unplanned baby, 21 months later. This time, I had a lot more confidence as a mother and desperately wanted him to take a pacifier. He did, for like a minute, and then had absolutely no interest. I wanted to cry. I knew that pacifier would help calm and soothe him at various times throughout the day. I envisioned a baby that went to sleep easier because he was self-soothing himself with the pacifier.
That’s why so many parents love the binky, dummy, or whatever you call it, but as much love as there once was, it can turn into a dreaded crutch that you’re a slave to.
And, that’s how I ended up helping lots of families with pacifier weaning. It’s not always easy, but it can be done!
When Should Babies (or Toddlers) Stop Using a Pacifier?
Before we even start with how to wean from a pacifier, we need to talk about when you need to start thinking about it, and the answer might actually surprise you.
Babies do have an actual need to suck, it calms them, and many will seek it out. Some will nurse from their mother all the time, other baby’s will use a pacifier. Totally normal through 6-8 months of age. But, after that, as babies are developing, their needs often change and they don’t need to suck quite as much as they used to.
For proactive parents and most babies using a pacifier, it can be weaned away within this time frame.
But, as I’m sure you’re well aware, this is often not the case. Sometimes the baby has a strong desire for that suck still, which could point to a sensory need. Don’t worry, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It is something to be aware of though. Head over to What is Sensory to learn more.
Other times, it’s simply because parents don’t realize it’s time to start phasing it out, and as a baby turns into a toddler, their ability to remember and form attachments becomes a lot stronger. At this point, it becomes more difficult to get rid of the binky. No fault to you, if this is the situation you’re in. I file this under, “Important things that nobody tells parents.”
This sets in more strongly when babies reach 15 months of age and older.
Do I Need to Worry About Pacifier Weaning
This leads to the very important question that you must ask yourself: Should you even worry about pacifier weaning? My answer: it depends. Of course, I’m going to explain this in some more depth, so let’s take a look:
When you should begin pacifier weaning:
- If your baby enjoys the pacifier, but isn’t overly dependent on it, you can follow the steps below in between 7 to 9 months old for a simple transition away from it.
- If your child is at an age that it’s stopping them from talking (aka their speech development). As a therapist, this is the biggest problem I see with the pacifier. For some kids that are so focused on walking around and sucking on the pacifier 24-7, they are less likely to have spontaneous speech, make sounds, or even babble. That’s not a good thing. But, a lot of times pacifier use can be decreased significantly, but not removed totally. We’ll talk more about that below.
- If your child’s dentist has told you that it’s ruining their teeth. If a child sucks on a pacifier A LOT it’s possible that it can actually change the shape of their dentition, or the way their teeth are lined up. You’ll notice that even without the binky in their mouth, when they close their teeth it looks like it’s still there. The front teeth spread apart a little and come forward more than they should. In these instances, simply cutting out how often your child is using the pacifier can help.
- If your child has frequent ear infections. While there are many causes of ear infections, frequent pacifier use could be one of the contributing factors.
When you don’t necessarily need to worry about pacifier weaning:
- When your baby is under 7-8 months old.
- When your child uses it occasionally or just for bedtime.
- When it’s not interfering with your child’s communication, social skills, health, or teeth.
- When it offers significant help in calming or relaxing your child or toddler.
Pacifier Weaning for Babies
If you’re baby is under 12 months old, you’ll likely be able to use this simple approach that I’m going to outline here, if they’re above 15 months old you’re going to want to check out the next section.
1. Begin to be aware of how often you’re using or relying on the pacifier. It’s very easy to slide into the habit of always inserting it in our babies mouth when they make one little whimper. That’s not necessarily bad, but being aware of how and when you’re using it can give you really great insights into how to start pulling back using it.
2. Start to make a conscious decision to not use it as often. Choose to eliminate any times when your baby is simply using the pacifier, but may not really need it. Think about when they’re pleasant and content, simply don’t offer it unless you really have to (aka their screaming their head off).
3. Now, I’d encourage you to try and not give them the pacifier right away, even if they’re crying. Give them a few seconds to try and calm down. Pick them up and rock them for a few seconds if need be, distract them with a toy, or give them a stuffed animal/soft blanket to hold instead.
Be patient with this step. It won’t be perfect. You’ll feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back at times. It’s a transition and those take time.
4. Eventually, you want to work yourself up to the point where you’re only offering the pacifier in really extreme instances, sparingly during the day, if at all. Then, to the point where they’re never using it during the day. At this point you’re last step to accomplish is sleeping, if this is important to you. Begin by setting up a bedtime routine, even for naps. This can be really simple with a story, rocking in a chair, and a kiss goodnight.
This routine is really important because it will help them relate other activities to falling asleep, not just the pacifier or the bottle for that matter. If you need some help with that too, head to How to Wean a Baby from a Bottle.
5. The last step is to make sure any pacifier at bedtime is out of sight, and to simply not offer it. Again, go back to some snuggles/reassurances from you and using a favorite blanket or teddy bear to help soothe. This too is another dance of back and forth, the same way it was for pacifier weaning during the day.
You’ll continue with consistently pulling back on using the pacifier until it’s completely gone. This can take days, weeks, or even several months.
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Pacifier Weaning for Toddlers
Once your child reaches 12-15 months old that deeper attachment begins to form. For toddlers closer to 12 months, they may be able to follow the simpler steps above, and in truth, what you’ll do for toddlers is quite similar, but it’s likely going to take some more time and tricks. Unless you go cold turkey, and say bye bye binky for good.
This is totally an option, but there’s a couple of ways to go about it and a few caveats you need to be aware of too! First, let’s talk about a slower toddler pacifier weaning:
1. For binky-loving toddlers, they often have them stashed everywhere. In the car seat, under the couch, in the toy bin, and every other nook and cranny in your home. Older toddlers will know where to find them and younger ones will stumble upon them accidentally and thwart your best efforts. So, step number one for toddlers: raid your house of pacifiers. Search high and low and gather them all so that you’re the keeper of the pacifier.
Throw out all of the crusty old ones, and keep just a few to have on hand. When you do give them a pacifier, make sure you retrieve it so they don’t have one lost in their bed or car seat again.
2. Don’t make a big deal about the pacifier, or your removal of them. You want to keep this on the D-L. The first step is to take it out of their mouth when they wake up or shortly after they are fully awake (if you have a morning snuggler) and begin to play. You can do this gently while they’re distracted and not say a word. This is my preferred method.
But, it doesn’t work for all kids. If your child consistently screams and cries every time you pull it out, then say simply, “It’s time for the binky to take a bath, it’ll be back soon.” Give them another comfort item before you walk away with it. Use the same item all the time, and I’d pick something they seem to already like. Likely this will be a stuffed animal or blanket, like I talked about above.
It’s important that they begin to associate this other object as soothing and calming. And, this could of course take time. Once you’ve given them the stuffed animal, walk away quickly and put the binky by the sink or somewhere they can’t see it, quickly and without fan fair.
For some toddlers that really have a need to suck or have something in their mouth, it may help to give them some simple whistles to blow, teethers, or these special necklaces that are made for chewing on.
3. You’ll continue to decrease times during the day when they have the pacifier outside of sleeping. Take note of how often they’re using it and begin to take out one time period at a time. Or, if it’s in their mouth nearly constantly, start by building up the time that you can both go without it. This could be as short as 5 minutes if need be. Then an hour or two later you try again for 5 or 6 minutes, slowly increasing your time with every attempt.
4. The goal is to not use the pacifier at all during the day, except for naps. If you’re toddler is dependent on them for sleeping, you can decide if you want to continue weaning or allow them to have it to sleep, it’s okay if you decide to do that!
5. If you want or need to wean away from bedtime, it’s really important to give them a substitute. Again, a teether or chewy tube could help them, but I’d focus first on another attachment object like the teddy bear or baby doll. Also, as I talked about with weaning babies from the pacifier above, the rest of your bedtime routine, outside of the pacifier is really important.
Establish a solid routine of bath, story, snuggles, singing, or whatever so that you’re child has a dependable routine. This gives them comfort and will greatly help with pacifier weaning.
The Binky Fairy and Other’s…
If you are straight up over this pacifier and the control that it has on your families life, you may be ready to jump in with both feet. That’s great, but keep in mind that some kids do have that real sensory need to keep sucking, especially for sleep. Trust your instincts. Is your child ready for this?
It’s okay to have some tears, but all-out meltdowns might be a sign that you need to take it a little more slowly.
When going cold turkey, there is the popular Dummy or Binky Fairy Method. The key to using this strategy successfully is a lot of build up! This is how it works: You tell your toddler, they should be around 2 years old and up to understand fully, that you’re going to get all the binky’s ready to say goodbye because the “Binky Fairy” is going to take them to new babies who need them.
This works particularly well if you pair it with a birthday or holiday. So, it sounds something like, “Now that you’re a big girl and are going to be three years old, the binky fairy is going to come on Saturday.” You want this to be a positive thing, so choose your words wisely.
At least 3-4 days ahead of time and possibly up to a week, you want to introduce the concept and then talk about it frequently, giving them frequent reminders and time to get used to the idea. Make it something exciting and treat it as an accomplishment!
Then on the day before, gather all of the pacifiers from around the house together. Put them in a basket and possibly draw the binky fairy a picture. Leave it in a prominent place in your home before bedtime. When your child wakes up in the morning all of the binky’s in the basket are gone! There may be a new chewy necklace or a little thank you note in return 😉
Celebrate with your child!
But remember, this is likely not the end. Your child will ask for that pesky pacifier again and you’ll have to follow through. Think all of that through before you commit to this method.
Another twist on this idea is to have a binky party and kiss them all goodbye. You can throw them in the garbage together (will be traumatic for some) or pack them in box to ship to them to “babies that will need them.”
You Got This
This binky stuff can be really hard, but you will get there. I can promise you that it will go so much smoother if you set your expectations really low. Know that it’s going to be a process.
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.