Let’s talk about pacifiers! If your child uses a pacifier, you may have a love/hate relationship with it. You love that it helps to soothe your little one but you hate the idea that one day you will have to take it away. At Speech Sisters, we get asked so many questions about pacifiers, so here are the answers to our most frequently asked questions.
DO PACIFIERS AFFECT SPEECH DEVELOPMENT?
First off, let us start out by saying that pacifiers have many benefits for babies. They encourage a baby to self-soothe, satisfy a baby’s sucking reflex and lower the risk of SIDS. On the other hand, pacifiers can affect speech development for babies and toddlers if a pacifier is used too frequently and/or for too long. After 12 months of age, we encourage parents to consider the frequency and duration of pacifier use. Between 12-24 months we recommend that pacifiers be used during “relaxing” times of the day, which would include book reading, naptime, bedtime, and possibly longer car rides.
The reason we recommend reducing pacifier usage to “relaxing” times is that we want parents to promote “talk time” when a child is active and engaged in their surroundings. “Talk time” will occur during the active awake times in your day and this is when the pacifier should be removed from the child. This time allows babies to move from cooing to babbling into saying their first words and sentences. When toddlers have the pacifier in their mouths during “talk time” it can negatively impact the way they begin to produce sounds, which may lead to articulation problems down the road.
AT WHAT AGE SHOULD MY CHILD WEAN OFF THE PACIFIER?
We recommend a gradual, flexible, guilt-free weaning process for parents to set into motion as early as 12 months but no later than 3 years of age.
Newborn- 12 months: Allow the baby to use a pacifier as often as they need or request it, but during any “talk time” such as cooing and babbling, take it out so they can vocalize! NOTE: According to research, the easiest time to take away the pacifier is around 6 to 8 months because at this age the child has not yet formed an attachment to it, so if you are wanting a very simple weaning process, then this may be your goal.
12-18 months: Begin to minimize the frequency of how often the pacifier is used. Limit pacifier use to “rest time” (e.g. storytime before sleep time, nap time, and bedtime). Reduce pacifier use during “talk-time”. A parent can always eliminate pacifier use altogether when and if the child/parent is ready for complete elimination. You can always check out our Courses for “talk-time” tips too!
18-36 months: Between ages 1.5-3 years of age we recommend weaning a child off of a pacifier with the goal of completely eliminating the pacifier prior to a child’s 3rd birthday. The reason behind this is that research shows that extended pacifier use may cause issues with oral structures, swallowing patterns, speech development, and chronic ear infections.
Children’s pacifier usage will vary based on frequency and duration. We give a suggested age range because every child is different. And every parent is different too. Some babies/parents may be more dependent on pacifiers than other babies and parents. Each family needs to be comfortable and ready to begin the weaning and elimination process of pacifier usage. We want this process to be as easy and positive as possible. We give this range so parents can plan ahead and begin when their family is ready.
HOW DO I KNOW IF PROLONGED PACIFIER USE HAS AFFECTED MY CHILD’S SPEECH?
It is important to know that all children experience phonological processes, which are developmentally appropriate speech sound errors that are used to simplify speech as a child is learning to talk. Children use these developmental error patterns because they are not yet able to appropriately coordinate their lips, tongue, teeth, palate, and jaw to form clear speech sounds. Each phonological process should be eliminated by a certain age (usually between 3 and 5 years old), so we know if a child reaches that age and still has the speech sound error then they should be evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. For more information on phonological processes click here.
When a child frequently sucks on a pacifier or uses it for a prolonged period of time we often see speech/articulation issues that are related to dentition, occlusion, and tongue thrust, in which case the production of the following sounds may be distorted due to inaccurate tongue placement: /s, z, t, d, l, n/.
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP MY CHILD’S SPEECH IF THEY ARE STILL USING A PACIFIER?
The most effective thing you can do for speech development while your child is still using a pacifier is to make sure that the pacifier is taken out of their mouth when they are talking. We make this recommendation because when a child speaks with a pacifier in his or her mouth it can limit opportunities to talk. It can also cause an unnatural position of the tongue, lips, and jaw which can distort a child’s speech. It is also very important to limit the amount of time that they use the pacifier.
If you are looking for ways to help your child start talking we are here to help! We have two online courses that can teach you how to maximize language opportunities during the daily routines that you are already doing. Our goal is to help you maximize your child’s “talk time” in those pacifier-free moments throughout your day.
SO WHAT IS THE TAKEAWAY?
If your baby recently started taking a pacifier, don’t let it scare you. There are many positives that come with pacifier use in the first 6 months of life! If you have a toddler who has been using the pacifier for a while now, that’s okay. Just be mindful of the frequency and duration of the pacifier use and try to come up with an elimination plan to execute around 2 years old and at the latest 3 years old. If your child is over age 3 years old and you notice articulation difficulties when producing certain speech sounds, we urge you to reach out to a speech pathologist.
To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!