How to Wean Your Baby From a Pacifier

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 25, 2021
4 min read

Some children enjoy using pacifiers as part of their self-soothing process. Many toddlers lose interest in their pacifiers between the ages of 2 and 4. However, other kids need help from parents to stop using one.

When it's time to wean your baby from their pacifier, try these tips to make the process easier.

Use praise instead of shame. Use rewards for success. For example, you could put a star on a rewards chart for each day your child doesn't use a pacifier.

Keep little hands busy. Some kids resort to pacifiers because they are bored. Keep little ones busy with crafts, toys, or activities to stop boredom-related pacifier use.

Use other soothing methods. Try rocking your child to sleep instead of always using a pacifier.

Go gradually. Instead of going "cold turkey," try limiting pacifier use to certain times, like bedtime, before removing it completely.

Tell a creative story. Kids have great imaginations. Try telling a story about where the pacifier is going. Maybe it's going to help other kids who need it more, or going to a magic fairyland where pacifiers come from.

Throw a going away party or goodbye ceremony. This is another creative idea that can help your child mark the transition.

Choose a replacement. Allow your child to choose a special toy that will be a comfort object instead of a pacifier.

Hold your ground. If your child fusses or whines without their pacifier, keep your boundaries and stand strong. After a few days, they will get used to it. Don't give it back once you have removed it.

Tell caregivers. Alert babysitters, nannies, grandparents, and anyone who helps care for your child that it's time for the pacifier to go away. Tell them the techniques you're using so they can use them too.

Think about the timing. Don't start your weaning process when it's already a difficult time. This might include a time when:

  • They are not feeling well
  • Your family is moving
  • Your family is on vacation
  • You have had a recent addition to the family
  • Your child is going to school for the first time

Using pacifiers for too long can affect the development of your child's teeth and the shape of their mouth. It can cause the top teeth to stick out and the bottom teeth to go inwards. If your child uses a pacifier too long, they may need braces or other orthodontic treatments later on.

After the age of 6 months, using a pacifier may increase your child's risk of getting an ear infection.

Finally, your child may simply become very dependent on the pacifier. They may cry in the middle of the night if it falls out of their mouth, disrupting everyone's sleep. As they get older, they may have more trouble at bedtime without their pacifier.

While prolonged pacifier use can cause problems, there are some benefits to using a pacifier.

  • They may reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • They can help your child's ears adjust to pressure changes during flights.
  • Many pacifiers are dishwasher safe, so you can easily sanitize them to protect your baby's young immune system from germs.
  • They can help soothe a fussy baby and help young infants fall asleep.

It's a good idea to wait 3 to 4 weeks before introducing a pacifier, especially if you are breastfeeding. This can help establish good feeding habits. Once you do establish your breastfeeding, only use a pacifier when you are certain your baby is not hungry.

If your child doesn't show interest in pacifiers, don't try to force it on them. Try offering it to them only after you've tried other methods to relieve fussiness, like rocking or changing positions. Don't entice your baby to enjoy the pacifier more by putting sweet things on it.

Clean pacifiers frequently, especially when your child is younger than 6 months. Clean them in boiling water or the dishwasher. Don't clean them with your own mouth.

Use the appropriately sized pacifier for your baby's age and size. Make sure the front part of the pacifier is large enough that your child can't put the whole thing in their mouth. 

Never use pacifiers that have strings or ribbons long enough to get caught around your baby's neck. Never attach the string of a pacifier to a baby's crib or around their neck. Instead, use pacifier clips with a relatively short strap.

To further avoid choking hazards, choose a pacifier that is one solid piece that can't come apart.