Can your child become addicted to the pacifier?

Do Pacifiers Lead to Addictive Behavior?

by Alice Drinkworth

Pacifiers are a controversial parenting topic. You may do everything in your power to keep the binky out of your baby's mouth, but it can be a lifesaver when dealing with a colicky infant on an airplane. When considering the pacifier question, you may wonder if they are addictive, or if they can lead to addictive behaviors later in life. The answer is as varied as children are, and depends on the child and her circumstances.

1. Pacifier Use

Babies like to suck. Some start sucking their thumbs or fingers while still in the womb. While parents may swoon at the cuteness on ultrasound pictures, they might wonder if that thumb is such a good idea once the baby is born and offer a pacifier. You can take away a pacifier, but not a child's thumb. Most children outgrow the thumb or pacifier between the ages of 2 and 4. If they don't give it up by then, the American Dental Association recommends parental intervention.

2. Prolonged Use

Somewhere between infancy and toddlerhood, the pacifier becomes a familiar habit. It is still comforting to the child, but more disconcerting for adults who may be calculating the costs of future orthodontist bills. Prolonged use of a pacifier can interfere with tooth alignment and mouth growth. Developmental psychologist Claire B. Kopp told "Time" magazine that children still using a pacifier at 3 and 4 years old may be suffering heightened stress. At this age, pacifier use is compared to smoking tobacco or overeating. Kopp recommends looking into the reasons why a child is still using the pacifier at that age.

3. Oral Fixation

Some children respond to stress by mouthing items long after they leave the oral stage of infancy. Prolonged attachment to the pacifier could indicate that your child has an oral fixation. Without the pacifier, she may resort to chewing or sucking on her thumb or fingers, her shirt sleeve, or put toys in her mouth when feeling stressed. Reducing stress and finding other ways to calm down will help the child refocus her energies away from her mouth. Keep her routine consistent. Make sure she gets adequate sleep. Give her a soothing bath or backrub when she reaches for the pacifier.

4. Weaning

If you have a toddler attached to her binky, you might say the child is definitely addicted to it. Attempts to take it away are often met with tears, long bedtime battles and genuine terror in the child’s eyes. Parents resort to gamey tactics, like wrapping all the pacifiers in pretty packaging to give to new babies, only to throw them in the trash after the child goes to bed. Some parents let the child trade in her pacifiers for a new toy of her choice, preferably one that helps her sleep without a pacifier.

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