Will using a pacifier cause my toddler to have delayed speech and language?
This is a common question, and you will most likely find differing opinions on the answer. Babies are born with a need to suck, and some babies have a more intense need than others. Sucking not only plays an important role in nutrition, but also plays an important role in a baby’s ability to self-soothe, so a pacifier can play a useful role as long as it is not used for too long. Why? Studies have shown that prolonged use of pacifiers may result in increased ear infections, malformations in teeth and other oral structures, and/or speech and language delays.
Many speech-language pathologists recommend stopping pacifier use by 12-18 months of age, which is when speech and language development really begins to “take off”. Also, this is the age that children typically begin to switch from bottle drinking to cup drinking and the age they also begin chewing more solid foods which will promote oral-motor development. As children become more independent at around 2 years of age, they start to develop habits and exert their own demands, so it is better to deal with the pacifier issue before the child becomes too attached.
Suggestions for eliminating the use of pacifiers: Avoid using a pacifier as a way to stop your infant or toddler from crying. Pacifiers are meant to satisfy intense sucking needs– not to delay or avoid nurturing a child or responding to his or her needs. Also avoid putting your child to bed with a pacifier. Encourage your child to use something else to comfort himself/herself such as a blanket, stuffed animal or other “lovey”. When weaning your child off a pacifier, do not let your child walk around with a pacifier in his/her mouth. Teach them they can only use it while sitting down or in a particularly stressful situation (like visiting the doctor). Most toddlers want to wander around, but if they are taught they must sit with their pacifiers, they may give them up on their own. Prepare your child for getting rid of his/her pacifier. Set a special date (their birthday, Christmas, etc.) and let your child put stickers on a calendar as a countdown while gradually decreasing the pacifier’s use. Be sure to offer lots of attention and a substitute for comfort when needed. Many children will respond to these suggestions and get rid of their pacifiers with minimal tears, and the benefits far outweigh a few “fussy” days.