My son used a pacifier, lovingly and devotedly, until he was 4 years old. Yes, 4.
As far as I can tell, he hasn’t suffered because of it. He doesn’t carry any residual speech issues or emotional dependencies. My Mother of the Year trophy hasn’t been rescinded, and the pediatric dentist confirmed his inevitable orthodontia has nothing to do with the pile of binkies in his baby keepsake box. Deep breaths. It was all okay. Eight years later, it still is.
“Every kid has their vice,” my educator mother said, one eyebrow raised. Other parents fret over potty training or a kid who cusses or one who has never napped and never will. My best friend’s son had a stuffed squirrel that was crunchy, even after a run through the washer, because that child would never let it go (not even while mid-sneeze or mid-pee).
Because my boy’s vice was the paci, I heard all about the dangers and devilishness of allowing the habit to go on (and on and on). You know those gasps and warnings. If you haven’t heard them over a pacifier, you’ve heard them for your child’s thumb sucking, bottle dependency or whatever version of the crunchy squirrel they’re snuggling with at the moment.
Admittedly, the pacifier love went on a little long. But its beginnings, in those early days of screaming infancy and parental exhaustion, were innocent and actually quite in line with healthy development.
Sucking a pacifier or thumb for comfort is a milestone that pops up right around month five of your little wailing one’s life. It’s an attempt at self-soothing, and therefore one of the earliest developments of self-help skills. We all get overwhelmed, scared, sad, tired or lonely, and how we cope can be wound back all the way to the nights when babies start sleeping for longer stretches. Instead of waking and crying, a baby’s brain develops enough to self-soothe back to sleep. There’s some evidence that comforting ourselves as babies can make us more adept at managing our behavior when we are older.
At the five-month mark, it’s also fine to let your baby cry a minute or two if he’s crying so that he has a chance to find his own self-soothing method. Rather than rushing right in, this brief parental pause could encourage an important milestone and be the beginning of your baby’s own comforting skills.
If you baby does find her thumb or pacifier, that might also mean a little more sleep for you (an important parent milestone you’ve been hurling yourself toward since day one).
As important as this milestone is, my son clearly took it a little too seriously for way too long. I am also not going to glamorize the hour I spent searching every nook and cranny of our car with a flashlight in the dark when he tossed the pacifier from the car seat on a road trip. I don’t want to add up how much we spent on pacifiers over that four-year love affair. And I am delighted my daughter has never taken or wanted a binky (insert a sticky stuffed owl here, however).
But was the pacifier the devil? Not at all. No matter what judge-y older ladies at the grocery store or my father-in-law said. It was a sign my son was studying up on taking good care of himself after he left the crib. Really, really good, long after he left the crib.
Do you feel guilty or judged for your wee one’s self-soothing binky, baby or blankie? How do you deal?