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Using a Pacifier as a Sleep Tool (Not Prop!).
A pacifier can often be seen as a magical item. It can quiet a crying baby. Calm an upset baby. Make a car ride bearable. Help a baby to sleep.
When you’re a mom trying to implement Babywise techniques, however, a pacifier can be a downfall.
Sure, the binky helps the baby fall asleep, but then what? You think the baby is down for the night. The quiet hum of the sound machine over the monitor says they are asleep. But then the moment of dread occurs. The pacifier falls out and BAM! They are awake and crying. So then it’s up to Mom to go in and out over and over re-inserting the dummie. It can be a headache, a hassle, and can quickly run the risk of becoming a sleep prop. The paci goes from helping baby to fall asleep to then being an object the baby has to have in order to sleep.
Sleep props can be anything that your child needs in order to fall asleep. With sleep training, the ideal is to avoid sleep props and instead allow the baby to learn how to self soothe and fall asleep on their own. You want to be able to say “okay baby it’s time for sleep sleep” and then simply lay them down and have them completely fall asleep on their own without help from Mom, Dad or any sort of prop device!
For me personally, using the pacifier with my first baby caused me a lot of guilt. My baby was addicted to the pacifier and I felt like it was my fault. I’m the one who introduced it to him. I’m the one that allowed it to become his favorite comfort object. So I paid the consequence by going in and out of my child’s bedroom several times to put the pacifier back into his mouth until he was old enough to do it himself (which felt like an eternity).
Once I weaned my first child from the pacifier, I swore I’d never use one again. No way.
However, after four well sleep trained kids, I have learned how to effectively use a pacifier as a sleep tool while also not allowing it to become a prop. Have the pacifer help with sleep rather than having to figure out how to get baby to sleep without pacifier.
The Pacifier as a Sleep Tool: Avoid Introducing
In order to avoid the pacifier addiction, I don’t introduce the pacifier to my babies. When my babies are newborns I begin setting them up for sleep success right from the start. Newborn pacifier can be tempting but can also cause nipple confusion as well as creating a sleep prop issue that you can count on becoming a frustration down the road.
Yes, people will comment about the pacifier. At the hospital even they will suggest a dummy when the baby is crying. But we are the parents and we decide what items we use and bring into our home. Newborn sleep props can make sleep training tougher right from the start and then you have to deal with breaking baby sleep associations at a later age…unless you think your kids will want sleep props for adults!
While nursing babies everyone knows that a pacifier can cause nipple confusion. Breastfed babies can get confused when switching between sucking on the pacifier and obtaining food from breastfeeding. But even with my bottle fed baby, I did not introduce a pacifier. I wanted to be able to fully learn his crying cues. How to tell when he was crying out of hunger or sleepiness. I wanted to allow him to learn how to fall asleep on his own at nap time and bedtime without using any sort of prop or tool in order to establish that sleep.
I owned pacifiers and I took the ones the hospital gave me, but I didn’t use them. I simply held onto them and waited until the timing was right for when they could be beneficial to helping my babies sleep through the night and through their full naps.
While I wait to introduce a pacifier until later in life, I start swaddling my babies from birth. Swaddling has many sleep benefits and helps babies avoid waking themselves up from uncontrollable movements while sleeping. Sleep associations are tools that help your baby sleep and the swaddle is THE tool I recommend the MOST! While the swaddle isn’t nearly as difficult to wean from as other sleep props (like the pacifier) can be, there are steps to take to make the swaddle weaning experience easier and you can read those here!
The Pacifier as a Sleep Tool: When to Start Using
For the first several weeks of life, it’s important to respond to baby’s cries. If my baby cried, I fed him. After the first two weeks of feeding on demand, all of my babies fell into a natural three-hour eating schedule and routine, no I’m not a sleep consultant I’m just a mama who loves SLEEP: Want my sleep tips for your newborn? Click here!
Once my healthy baby’s turn two weeks old I start implementing a Babywise sleep schedule. It’s then that I may start to use a pacifier as needed.
By two weeks, from my view, I have had that bonding time to really learn my baby and they are on a solid eating routine and better able to eat effectively. This allows me to offer the pacifier at certain times without worrying about nipple confusion or that my baby is crying due to hunger.
The Pacifier as a Sleep Tool: How to Use at Naps
The pacifier is a wonderful sleep tool when used effectively. First, I never ever offer my baby the pacifier at the start of sleep time. My babies learn from early ages how to self soothe and fall asleep on their own without help from Mommy or a pacifier sleep prop.
When the baby wakes up before nap time is over I wait. It’s important to let the baby fuss a little bit as they often will settle back to sleep on their own and continue their sleep cycle. If they continue to cry and seem unable to settle I do everything possible to get them back to sleep.
First I will keep them in the crib but gently pat them and say “shhh”. If that doesn’t soothe them back to sleep I will pick them up and offer comfort then lay them back down in the crib. If that still doesn’t work I will move them to a swing or bouncer. FINALLY, if NONE of the other methods help them fall back to sleep, I will offer the pacifier.
The pacifier may help give them the comfort they need in order to fall back to sleep for the remainder of their nap. This is extremely helpful during the 4 month sleep regression.
Most naps, the baby will sleep solidly for the entire nap. And most of the time, if they do wake, then one of the earlier methods will help them get back to sleep. The pacifier is truly a last resort but can often be the thing that does the job and lulls baby to sleep for the remainder of their nap time.
The Pacifier as a Sleep Tool: How to Use at Night
Most of the time if I need to use a pacifier, it’s during the middle of the night. An early goal with a new baby is to get them sleeping through the night and often that can be achieved through the help of a pacifier.
Again, I always put my babies down to sleep without any sort of sleep prop. They fall asleep completely on their own.
Once my baby is back up to their birth weight I will stop waking them to feed in the middle of the night. I typically do a dream feed and then just go to bed and cross my fingers hoping they will sleep through the night!
Most of the time a baby under two months old will wake up for 1-2 feeds before their ideal morning wake time. When my babies wake in the middle of the night I try to let them fuss a bit. See if they settle back to sleep on their own. If not, then I will go ahead and feed them.
As they get older and go down to the one middle of the night wake up feeding I will utilize the pacifier as a sleep tool to train them to sleep through the night. If they wake crying I will go in and insert the pacifier right away in hopes that it will result in the baby falling asleep instantly rather than fussing and getting themselves more awake or more worked up.
If the pacifier falls out within 5 minutes and the baby is crying again then I will go back in and reinsert the paci. If this cycle happens three times then I know the baby is truly hungry and will go ahead and offer that feeding to them and put them right back to bed, without the pacifier.
The goal is for the baby not to wake at all in the night but the pacifier can really help in dropping that last middle of the night feeding and helps to know if the baby is truly hungry when waking in the night or if they are just needing to resettle. Rather than being part of a baby’s bedtime routine, the pacifier is only used during an as needed basis.
The Pacifier as a Sleep Tool: Not a Prop
When used in these ways, the pacifier never becomes a sleep prop. The baby never needs the binky in order to sleep. It is simply a tool in my parenting toolbox to help during moments when my baby can’t settle themselves, when I’m troubleshooting a sleep problem, to see if the baby is truly hungry or to help them sleep for their full nap and through the night.
Typically a three month old baby is fully sleeping through the night and solid for their naps and very rarely is the pacifier ever used again. There is no need to wean from the pacifier, no need to go cold turkey, no dealing with a two year old who is dummie obsessed.
The baby just sleeps. The baby falls asleep. The baby stays asleep. They sleep solid, they don’t wake early, and therefore they don’t use the pacifier either! They are getting that deep sleep and high-quality sleep we all really want!
It’s never something they miss as it wasn’t ever something they used on a regular enough basis to truly desire or crave.
The pacifier can easily become a sleep prop but by restricting the use to only middle of the night or middle of nap wakeups it can be a genius sleeping tool! Baby sleep can be a huge struggle for mamas but with a solid plan in place and helpful tools in your parenting toolbox, your baby will sleep better and longer…and so will you.
Toddler sleep and child sleep are both equally important as infant sleep and by starting off using sleep training techniques from an early age you can have an awesome sleeping baby who only continues to sleep well into adulthood! Here are three things you need to know about sleep training.
Looking for other info on pacifiers? These posts are for you:
- Babywise and the Pacifier
- Weaning from the Pacifier
- How to Get Rid of Pacifier Sleep Prop
- Pacifiers: Are You Ruining Your Baby?