Baby Sleep Help: To Wean or Not to Wean the Pacifier

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  • December 28, 2010
wean the pacifier

wean the pacifier

“My 10 month old still sleeps with a pacifier and sometimes he’ll wake up in the middle of the night and cry because it fell out. If I get in there quick enough and put it back in his mouth he’ll sometimes go right back to sleep but often times he won’t and it takes giving him a bottle and then his pacifier to get him back down. Please – how do we break this cycle?”  -Jen

Could Your Child Have a Sleep Crutch?

It sounds like your son’s sleep crutch is to suck to sleep- whether it is a bottle or a pacifier. I would start with putting him down awake at bedtime (after a good day of naps) and not letting him fall asleep with the bottle. If you need to wean him from nighttime bottles then pick one of the methods outlined in “Good Night, Sleep Tight” in the 9-12month old chapter. Follow the rules of the Shuffle.

Now on to the pacifier– it’s your choice, and what you choose may depend on how often he’s waking up and demanding that you find his pacifier and plug it in again for him. Here are some options:

• Let him keep the pacifier

• Let him have it only at naptime and bedtime

• Let him keep the pacifier only at naptime (which can be harder than bedtime for a baby to calm himself).

• Wean the pacifier completely.

Keeping the Pacifier

If you are keeping the pacifier for at least some portion of his sleep time, you may try to help your baby find it himself. At 10 months old your baby is probably able to grip and maneuver the pacifier on his own (most babies develop the pincer grip between six to eight months)  so you can  leave several strewn around the crib so he can find one himself, instead of demanding that you come in over and over again to retrieve and re-plug it. You may have to put it in his hands a few times until he catches on.

Weaning the Pacifier

If you are weaning the pacifier—well, weaning isn’t really the right word. It’s not gradual. It’s either in the baby’s mouth or not. You’ll have to do some extra soothing if you take away the pacifier. See if he’ll start bonding to a lovey. Pick a night when you are ready to cope with a little unpleasantness and put him to bed without his binkie. Make sure he has good naps that day and an especially nice and calming bedtime routine. Get him to bed drowsy but awake. Stroke or soothe him instead of giving him the pacifier, using techniques similar to those I advise for parents who are breaking the nighttime nursing or walking habits. Do the same thing each time he wakes at night. If you cave in once after he’s cried for an hour, you aren’t teaching him to sleep without the pacifier. You are teaching him to cry for an hour in order to get a pacifier. Be prepared for a few rough nights.

Not sure what the best choice is for you? Many parents will start with trying to teach their baby to find the pacifier themselves. If they have success, they keep the pacifier for sleep only. If they don’t have success and their baby is up frequently during the night that is usually the incentive to get rid of the pacifier completely! It is better to do this at 10 months old than in another year!

Sweet dreams!


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Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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  • Eva Colon says:

    Hi Kim! I have twin boys who are almost 5 months old. They actually sleep pretty great with a few exceptions. They are great at going to sleep by themselves and do not really need our help. However, they wake up a lot at night still. Some nights it seems like they wake up every two hours. Sometimes they we give them their binky and they go back to sleep. Other times they wake up and seem to be starving so we feed them and put them back to bed. Sometimes when they wake up ravenous it is only 3 hours after going to bed. This is so frustrating and we are getting desperate. They were progressing nicely for a while there and even were sleeping in 5-6 hour stretches. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere they started to regress. Me and my husband have not slept for more than 2-3 hours at a time in almost 5 months and we are TIRED! We bought your sleep package on the internet and are trying some of the tips in it but it is especially hard with twins who share a room. Can you please help us?

  • Maria says:

    My daughter is 9 months old. We started the sleep training method 9 days ago. Our chair is in the Hallway now. At the beginning the program worked like a charm, we saw huge improvement right away but about day 5 things stated to go backwards. Naps are short (45 mins in the AM and 1 hr or less in the PM) no matter what we do to put her back to sleep. If we comfort her from the chair she cries for an hour. If we try again we can expect another hour of crying. If we take her out on a stroll she gets even more awake and chatty. And finally this morning she woke up at 2:15 AM and cried on and off until 6AM when we took her out of her crib.

    I don’t know what happened that turned her sleep habits backwards, but the only way she could sleep a complete nap today, after sleeping only 20 minutes in her crib, was by laying on me in my bed. We are tempted to give up the program because she is crying all the time and not making any progress.

    Please help, we’ve come so far and it seems it would be a waste of tears if we go back to the way things were, but we are desperate.

    Thank you sincerely for your time and consideration.


  • Katie McCourt says:

    We dealt with the same issue with our now 2 year old when she was a baby. She used the pacifier to fall asleep and with each night waking would cry until one of us ran in to pop the paci back in her mouth. I’m not sure what kind of pacifier your baby takes, but she loved the soothie pacifiers from the hospital so I found this website that sells the pacifier attached to a little animal The animal was easier for her to hold onto and find on her own during the night. It did take a little getting used to for her and I did have to let her cry a little until she figured out that she could get the pacifier on her own during the night. Although we thought about taking the pacifier away many times in the beginning, it was such a soothing tool for her that we decided the positives outweighed the negatives. She was able to go to sleep in her crib tired but awake with the pacifier and fall asleep at night and nap time. My daughter was also in daycare and napping at daycare can be hard with all of the activity so I really liked that she had something that was so soothing for her. Also, it was a nice thing to have at times because it made things like fussy car trips or sleeping away from home much easier for her. We really only used the pacifier for sleep time, I didn’t want her having it when she was awake during the day.

  • nancy says:

    I really think you need to be tough about the bottles. Milk on the new teeth is an absolute no (and there isn’t much absolute in parenting). The sugar (yes, lactose in milk is sugar) will ruin his teeth and by the time you know the damage is done it’s too late. You need these baby teeth to last at least 6 years – they are important for speech and holding the place for the big teeth. I recommend diluting out the milk until it’s just water over a week at which point he will hopefully no longer have an interest in the bottle. Meanwhile – agree with the scatter method for pacifiers- put him to bed with one pac’y in the mouth and one in each hand and help him find it when he wakes. teach him during the daytime to put it in himself (we all learn less well in the middle of the night – right?) Hand him the lovey for every transition so he will bond – stroller, car seat…stroke his cheek with it and say “here’s your lovey” in a sweet parenting voice that he will associate with you – and squirt a little breast milk on it or hold it next to your skin so it smells like mom to help him attach.

  • Alexandra says:

    Both my girls (now 4.5 and 3 years old) were/are champion sleepers in no small part due to advice from Kim’s book.

    Both girls moved out of our bedroom into their own rooms at about 8 months old and took their “kiki”‘s with them. They got used to wearing one on a short, child-safe tether and got very good at finding it themselves and self-comforting. We “weaned” off the pacifier by taking it off whenever they were not in the crib, and then eventually we just “lost” it around 18 months.

    My mom always says it is preferable to give them a pacifier and then take it away rather than have them become dependent on thumb-sucking for self-comfort (and the potential orthodontic headaches it could cause!)

    We’ve got baby #3 on the way and it’s good to remember how important “drowsy but awake” is at every stage!

  • Heather says:

    We have a 17 month old that will not sleep through the night. We read your book when she was 8 months old and realized that we had created many bad sleeping habits (mainly, that I had nursed her to sleep). After reading your book, we did the sleep shuffle and on the third night, she started sleeping through the night. It wasn’t always perfect, but a lot better than it was. A couple of months ago, she got sick and and we had to do the sleep shuffle again afterward, but she is still waking up screaming several times a night. I’m now pregnant again and exhausted. Do you have any advise?

  • Clare Lewis says:

    I have a new question for possible consideration rather than a comment/reply. Since May 2010 my daughter (now nearly 21 months) has been waking up at around 5am or earlier consistently. I asked the health visitor for advice & was told she was waking early as I was giving her too much sleep in the day. She was 13 months when this started & I was giving her 2 to 2.5 hours sleep a day. The HV said cut it down to 1 hour a day. I did this & it didn’t work, it served only to make me & my poor daughter more & more tired, cranky & temperamental. After buying your book after a particularly vicious week of 4.30am starts at the end of November 2010, I increased her sleep in the day to 2 & a quarter hours & also made sure she stayed in her cot til 6am – we used to get her up when she woke early. We had fabulous success after just over a week or so & some days she slept til gone 7am!! This lasted a week itself & then for some reason she reverted back to early starts, by Christmas we’d got her back on track sleeping til just before 6am pretty consistently but we have slipped again & I don’t know what I’m doing wrong! is it because she has had so many months of early waking that it is taking a long time to work or should I resign myself to early waking forever?! She is always in bed by 7pm. Please help!

  • Tavya Casad says:

    Hi, Is there a place to look up old questions and answers to see if I can find a resolution there? I have a 6 year old that for the past 2 months or so, has been waking up 3-5 times a night and coming in my room saying she has has a bad dream and wants to sleep with me. I am very consistent and always walk her back to her bed and she gets back in goes back to sleep. But doing this numerous times a night leaves me with little sleep. Sometimes she seems legitimately upset like she has had a bad dream but more often she seems just fine. I have offered incentives to stay in bed but none work. I thought if I was consistent with always returning her to her own bed instead of letting her climb in mine, she would eventually give up and stay in her own bed. Thanks!

  • Registered nurse says:

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  • Cherry says:

    This is a tremendous post! Thank you for writing it.

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