The amount of extra sucking babies do when they are not feeding varies. This extra sucking is a beneficial self-comforting behavior. Some babies suck on their thumb or fingers almost constantly. If you have a baby like this, you may want to try to interest him in a pacifier.
To be accepted as a substitute for the thumb, the pacifier has to be introduced during the baby's first 2 months. The larger orthodontic type of pacifier may prevent tongue-thrusting during sucking, but the smaller regular type also is fine. You will probably need to try different pacifiers to find the shape your baby prefers.
The biggest advantage of a pacifier is that if you can get your child to use one, he won't suck his thumb. Thumbsucking can cause a severe overbite if it continues after your child's permanent teeth come in. A pacifier exerts less pressure on the teeth and causes much less overbite than the thumb. Also, you can control your child's use of a pacifier as he grows older. In contrast, it is much more difficult to stop your child from sucking his thumb because the thumb belongs to him.
Start the pacifier by 1 to 2 months of age if your baby shows a tendency to become a thumbsucker. Otherwise one is probably not needed. Some babies can soothe themselves without sucking. The peak age for thumbsucking or using a pacifier in infants is 2 to 4 months. In the following months, the urge to suck normally decreases. A good age to make the pacifier less available is when your child starts to crawl. A pacifier can interfere with normal babbling and speech development. This is especially important after 12 months of age, when speech should increase dramatically. It's hard for a child to talk with a pacifier in his mouth.
To make sure your child doesn't become overly attached to a pacifier (for example, walk around with it in his mouth all the time), consider the following recommendations:
Observe the following precautions for using a pacifier:
If pacifier use has been restricted to times you are holding your child, he will usually lose interest in it by 9 to 12 months of age. A pacifier can interfere with normal speech development. It's hard to talk with a pacifier in your mouth. Your child is more likely to lose interest in her pacifier if it becomes worn out and you don't replace it. You can accelerate this process by cutting the end off the pacifier. Sucking on a defective pacifier is hardly worth the trouble. Your child will probably toss it.
If he has been allowed to use it frequently and is very interested in it, your child will usually agree to give it up completely by the age of 3 or 4 years. Pick a time to give it up when your child is not coping with new stresses or fears. Sometimes giving up the pacifier on a birthday, holiday, or other special occasion is easier for your child.
Make the transition as pleasant as possible. You may need to offer incentives. If your child is strongly attached to a pacifier, offer to replace the last nighttime pacifier with a new stuffed animal or encourage him to trade it for something else he wants. Never use punishment or humiliation to force your child to give up the pacifier.
Give your child the choice of throwing the pacifier away or leaving it out to be picked up (for example, by Santa Claus or the "pacifier fairy"). Putting the pacifier away somewhere in the house is usually not a good idea, because your child will be more likely to ask for it during times of stress. At such times, comfort your child with cuddling instead. Help your child talk about missing the pacifier. Praise your child for this sign of growing up.