The Use of Pacifiers in Toddlers
Pacifier Use in Montessori Toddler Communities
Most babies have a strong sucking reflex. Some babies even suck their thumbs or fingers before they’re born. Beyond nutrition, sucking often has a soothing, calming effect. That’s why many parents rank pacifiers as must haves, right up there with diaper wipes and baby swings. For some babies, pacifiers are the key to contentment between feedings. For babies to naturally suckle on their mother is the most gratifying experience, and this perpetual movement of the mouth is able to satisfy the hundred billion neurons (100,000,000,000) of their brains. Suckling by the baby is a direct experience of how wonderful it is to be accepted in the arms of a loving mother.
Advantages for some babies are listed below:
- A pacifier might soothe a fussy baby
- A pacifier offers temporary distraction
- A pacifier might help your baby fall asleep
- A pacifier might ease discomfort during flights
- Pacifiers might help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Pacifiers clearly have advantages in babies. However, after the baby turns one there is a negative consequence in the use of a pacifier, especially with respect to the development of language. Keeping the mouth perpetually occupied with the movement of suckling makes it difficult for children to manifest the first words and phrases of language development. At birth children have a limited possibility of voluntary movement – they can only suckle, swallow and cry. As babies grow and mature, they begin producing sounds – a precursor to the spoken language. If there are no impediments to language development, the child can put together vowels and consonants with ease. A pacifier at this crucial time of spoken language development can indeed impede development.
Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians provide joint guidelines on reducing or stopping pacifier use between the ages of 6-12 months to reduce the risk of Otitis Media (ear infections). A research group from Finland stated that pacifier use is a significant risk factor for acute otitis media in a prospective study of children in day care centers.
The American Dental Association and the American Association of Pediatric Dentists also recommend avoiding the use of pacifiers to prevent dental malocclusion. Toddlers who are overzealous suckers may change their tooth alignment or delay speech. Sucking a pacifier at this stage can lock the mouth into an unnatural position, which may cause dental problems later in life. A recent study showed significant differences in dental arch and occlusion characteristics in users at 24 months and 36 months of age compared with those that had stopped sucking by 12 months of age.
Depending on your child’s age, consider these techniques to wean your child from the pacifier:
- Younger infants: Rocking, and singing, walking around the room, playing soft music and infant massage can be effective alternatives to pacifier use.
- Older infants and toddlers: Activities, toys or other objects of affection, such as a blanket with satin edging which may provide the necessary sensory soothing, to distract your child from his or her desire for the pacifier.
- Toddlers and older children: Consider holding a special ceremony to bury or otherwise discard the pacifier — or allow your child to trade in his or her pacifier for a special book or toy. Your child’s dentist may also be able to provide suggestions to wean your child off the pacifier.
Pacifiers are not allowed in toddler communities at LMS. Allowing a toddler to suck on a pacifier during
the formative years of language absorption and oral development impedes their verbal communication skills. The young toddler undergoes rapid physical and neurological development and at LMS, we provide
every opportunity for the toddler to develop spoken language in accordance with their sensitive period.
With the variety of materials the teachers use for language development, we want toddlers to be active,
verbal learners. We want them to repeat words and learn to understand them. Using their verbal skills,
helps children enrich their vocabulary and learn to enjoy books read to them from a very early age – the
first step in literacy!