When to break the binky habit

If a child is walking and talking, does he need a pacifier planted in his mouth? Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers and the American Academy of Pediatrics' Caring For Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5, says sometimes the habit is harder for parents to quit than the kid.

Why are pacifiers necessary? Are they beneficial to newborns and infants?

Dr. Tanya: Babies soothe themselves by sucking. It's a natural reflex. So if you have a fussy baby who's been fed, changed and checked to make sure nothing else is bothering him, try the paci and see if it helps. The American Academy of pediatrics recommends putting a baby to bed with a pacifier since studies show that it's linked to a decreased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

When should children stop using a pacifier?

Dr. Tanya: The best time to get rid of the paci is between 6 and 12 months -- before your infant declares it his security object and won't go to sleep without it. After that age infants don't need to suck all the time and you can substitute another little blanky or stuffed toy. When you get rid of the paci your infant will learn how to self soothe, which is important for day and night sleep. If he's still a paci kid past one year, it may be a little more challenging to pull the plug. At this age he won't wean himself so parents may have to be strong and just choose an age -- 15 or 18 months - to decide that the paci days are over.

What are your thoughts about kids ages 2, 3, 4 and older walking around with pacifiers in their mouths?

Dr. Tanya: Older infants who use the paci are more prone to picking up colds because they are so accustomed to constantly sucking and mouthing objects (the usual entry point for germs). Also, using a pacifier for longer than a year or two can interfere with a child's teeth and bite.

The idea of a "Binky Fairy" taking away all the pacifiers is a relatively new practice used by modern parents. Why do you think parents are having so much trouble today that they have to make up stories?

Dr. Tanya: Some parents are just as hooked on the binky as the infant, sometimes even more so. Busy parents with a routine that works, such as offering a pacifier and then their baby goes peacefully to sleep, may find it hard to readjust their schedule. Often it's harder on the parents to kick the habit than the toddler. I took the pacifier away from my second son at 18 months of age one weekend when my husband was out of town.

If a fairy helps you and your child deal with the fact that the pacifiers are going away, then that's fine. For infants and young toddlers, simply making them disappear and redirecting your child at times when he asks works well. Within a few days they typically forget the binky and stop asking.

Read more on pacifiers

Suri Cruise: Still rockin' the pacifier at nearly five
Getting ready to lose the pacifier
How to get rid of the old pacifier

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