Why Sleep Training with a Pacifier isn’t Sleep Training

 

 

Pacifiers can be a godsend.

 

Especially in those early newborn weeks, when a baby can cry incessantly for no apparent reason. When a baby is still crying after being fed, burped and changed, pacifiers can work soothing magic.

The reason pacifiers are so helpful is because babies love to suck. Many babies are seen sucking their thumbs in utero, through ultrasounds. Sucking has a calming effect on babies and can help them cope with the overwhelming world that surrounds them.

Pacifiers can also be an amazing distraction during stressful times, such as during vaccines or a painful diaper change in the middle of a bad rash.

Pacifiers really are a wonderful tool and can come in handy many times.

However…

Sleep training while your baby still uses the pacifier at night isn’t really sleep training.

Here’s why.

Sleep training means teaching your baby to go from being awake to asleep without your help.

Most babies need help replacing the pacifier when it falls out. If your baby is crying for you to come to replace that pacifier 5 times each night (or even once) they are not sleeping independently! No matter what, they still need you to come and help them. That means they can’t sleep on their own.

If your baby is old enough to replace the pacifier on their own, that’s definitely better than him calling for you. However, he will still spend a considerable amount of time hunting in the dark crib for the missing pacifier and may end becoming fully awake in that time, causing it to take even longer for him to fall back asleep. A pacifier interrupts sleep in both scenarios.

In light of this, I highly, highly highly recommend ditching the pacifier when you’re ready to sleep train. (Keep in mind that this applies to babies over 4 months of age.)

Did that thought send shivers down your spine?

I get it. It’s the only thing that calms your baby – how can you even think of getting rid of it?!

Every baby can sleep without a pacifier, once they’re taught how.

There is more than one way to do it. Here are two options:

Go Cold Turkey. Simply stop offering the pacifier at bedtime. This is the quickest, easiest way to eliminate your baby’s dependency on the pacifier. It takes a bit of courage, and you may hear some crying for the first night or two. When your baby cries, give them time to learn how to soothe themselves with something that you won’t have to come and replace 5 times each night. Many babies learn to suck their thumbs or other fingers, and some babies find comfort in other interesting ways, like rubbing their bedsheets or stroking their hair.

 

 Try the Pantley Pull Off. If you prefer a more gentle method, you can try the Pantley Pull Off, developed by Elizabeth Pantley. This method gradually eliminates the pacifier over the course of a few nights. The first night, remove the pacifier when your baby is just on the brink of sleep. The second night, remove it gently right before she falls asleep. The next night, remove it when she is a bit more awake but still drowsy. Repeat this until baby falls asleep on her own without the pacifier. This is an extremely gradual approach which can take up to a week to complete.  

It’s fine to offer the pacifier to your baby during the daytime as a soothing tool. Just make sure not to give it to him during naps!

Pacifiers can be great in the beginning, and can really help soothe a fussy newborn.

When it comes to sleep training, however, if your baby needs to have the pacifier replaced, it can slow down or even prevent the process of learning how to sleep. Do yourself and your baby a favor and don’t give her a pacifier when it’s time to sleep.

Some important safety notes about pacifiers:

  • Using a pacifier at night is seemingly correlated with a reduced risk of SIDS. This article is geared towards babies 4 months and up, when the risk of SIDS drops sharply.
  • Never attach the pacifier to your baby when she is in her crib. This can be extremely dangerous as the ribbon connecting the pacifier to the clip can get tangled around a baby’s neck, posing a risk of strangulation.
By | 2019-08-29T16:33:53-04:00 June 27th, 2018|Categories: Sleep Training|32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Mia August 8, 2019 at 9:45 am - Reply

    We have a different problem…our baby girl, 10 weeks old, falls asleep without pacifier for every single nap. However, watching her on baby monitor, when she wakes up for app. half an hour, she simply will not go to sleep again without it…despite the fact she fell asleep with no paci and therefore should not associate paci with sleep. Any suggestions? To try Pantley pull out when she can not fall asleep again, or to leave it as it is, maybe she will come around with time? I mean, it seems logical to me if she can fall asleep with no paci, then she should be able to put herself to sleep again without it…

    This seems not to be the issue by night, as she goes to sleep without paci and sleeps for 5 hour stretch, so I assume she falls asleep on her own….

    • Riki Taubenblat August 8, 2019 at 6:33 pm - Reply

      Great question, Mia!

      This post is geared towards babies that are developmentally ready for sleep training- 4 months and older. Before that age, pacifiers are generally recommended if they help your baby sleep better, because they are correlated with a reduced risk of SIDS.

      Another good thing to keep in mind is that short naps are normal for newborns – babies don’t learn how to link sleep cycles together during the day until about 4 or 5 months old, which is when naps start to lengthen. If the pacifier helps your baby lengthen her nap now without
      much effort, I would say it’s fine to pop in back in. If it gets to the point where it’s happening excessively, you can definitely experiment with the Pantley Pull Off.

      Best of luck with that!

  2. Sonia Kapadia August 9, 2019 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    Hi there,
    We have a 9 week old baby who we have just started to give a paci to to sleep’ in the evening as she just won’t stop nursing to sleep. She’s made herself sick from eating too much. She’s slept really well after having the pacifier put in and I take it out once she’s fully asleep and don’t replace it in the night.
    And it means she’s gone to sleep awake but drowsy in her bassinet. Is this a good thing? Is this sleep training at all as she knows she’s going to sleep not in my arms?
    Also why do you recommend not using them for naps?
    Thanks!!!

    • Riki August 12, 2019 at 3:22 pm - Reply

      Hi Sonia,

      Sounds like you’re doing great work with your baby’s sleep!

      For babies that are 4 months and up, I don’t advise pacifiers for naps, for the same reason that I don’t advise them for nights- they can disrupt independent sleep. However, pacifiers are great for newborns, who are not developmentally ready for sleep training. What you’re currently doing is building a great sleep habit with your newborn, falling asleep in her bassinet. This will serve your baby very well as she gets older. Keep that up!

  3. Samantha August 10, 2019 at 9:15 am - Reply

    Sorry question! So she usually goes to sleep with it.. but when she loses it we don’t replace it. If she cried.. we let her cry it out usually in 5 min (surprisingly) she is okay… For her naps at least. When she rolls over she always loses it… Then cried calms herself and falls asleep.. should I just remove all together even though she is learning in a way to sleep without it?

    • Riki August 12, 2019 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Hi Samantha,

      It’s up to you and how you feel. If you see that your baby is learning to fall asleep shortly after the pacifier falls out and you don’t mind that crying process, you can hold onto it.
      To me, it sounds like she’s frustrated when it falls out so you may want to offer it to your baby only during awake time, when you can be there to replace it.
      It also depends on how old your baby is. If she’s under 16 weeks, there’s no rush to get rid of it. If she’s older than that, it’s really your call and how you feel about the crying. Good luck Samantha!

  4. Mia August 13, 2019 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the fast reply 🙂

    We are still having good night sleeps, with no paci at all, I just put my baby in the crib, so I am happy about this at least.

    I have been trying the Pantley Pull Off for past few day for naps, but I am not sure if I am doing it right. I am eager to wean her of paci for naps because it is sometimes a problem when the paci falls out.

    It does not take much for my baby to close her eyes- I close the curtains, swaddle her, put white noise on, and if she roots for paci, I give it to her (if she starts crying.) But she then closes her eyes immediately, so I put her in the crib…and take the paci out, once her eyes are already closed. Do closed eyes mean she is already asleep? And that I am taking paci out too late?

    I mean, I know she is not in her deep sleep, but is it worth an effort if her eyes are shut?

    Thanks a lot.

    • Riki August 13, 2019 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      Each day you want to remove the pacifier a bit earlier in the process. If you’ve been taking it out once her eyes are closed, then move onto the next step, taking it out as her eyes are starting to close. Then move onto the next step, taking it out before her eye close, and then stop offering it altogether.

  5. Becky August 24, 2019 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    Hi,

    My 8 month old has recently started waking in the night crying (up to 5 times a night, it’s random each night). We have been putting the pacifier back in or sometimes giving him a bottle.
    Sometimes he needs his pacifier to sleep at other times he falls asleep without it.
    Do you think this is the pacifier attachemnet that’s the problem? Or could it be that he is hungry etc? It has only just started happening, so not sure what has triggered it?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Becca Eastham August 24, 2019 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    Hi! My baby is 8 months old. She’s fallen asleep with her pacifier since she was born. She’s been a great sleeper. Past couple weeks she’s been waking 1-2 times a night wanting her pacifier. She’s never done it before. Should I cold turkey it and let her cry a few mins then check on her, then let her cry a bit more? I moved her into her own room a couple nights ago

    • Riki August 25, 2019 at 7:59 pm - Reply

      Hi Becca,

      It’s up to you! At this age, most babies do better with cold turkey, but you can try the Pantley Pull Off if you prefer.

  7. Andrew August 28, 2019 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    Great article. We have an 8-month old, born 9-weeks premature, so developmentally lagging 2 months. Curious, do preemies have a more difficult time sleep training / pacifier weaning? Our boy has fallen asleep with his pacifier since he was born. We’ve been trying to sleep train with all the different methods for the last 2 months. Nothing is working. He needs the pacifier to calm down otherwise he’s hysterical, and we try the 5-10-15 to no avail. He’ll immediately fall asleep with the paci, but wakes / stirs at 2am and 4am. At the 4am he’s okay remaining in his crib and working it out himself. We don’t engage until 530am-ish. I’d love to get him to sleep later though than 4am. (He goes down by 630/7pm.) But the 2am he’s not happy and screaming…we let him work this out on his own as well…but trying different methods the last 2 months have not improved this. To compound, he’s always had bad reflux, so dream feeding in crib is not always easy.
    We are beginning the sleep training process again, night number 2, this time; trying to push his bedtime a little later as close to 7pm as possible. We still try and put down without paci, but end up giving it after the 5-10-15. Sometimes he falls asleep for 10 minutes on his own without paci but still gets hysterical for paci. And we are doing dream feeding 11pm in crib. But still waking 2am and 4am as mentioned. We were told to try and push his bedtime later to 7, but he is ready by 6!

    • Riki August 29, 2019 at 4:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Andrew,

      Glad you enjoyed the article.

      As long as the adjusted age is taken into consideration (your baby is 6 months adjusted) preemies can learn to sleep just as well as full-term babies. This is because sleep has more to do with brain development than anything else.

      Giving the pacifier to your baby will reinforce the crying, as he’s not yet capable of putting it back in his mouth on his own, especially in the dark. This is precisely why I’m not a fan of using the pacifier during sleep training.

      On a separate note, if your baby is struggling with reflux, I don’t advise sleep training until that’s worked out (either with medication, elimination diet or a natural dissipation). More on that here

      https://babysleepmaven.com/5-things-you-can-do-if-your-baby-suffers-from-acid-reflux/

      If your pediatrician is satisfied with his weight gain and gives the go-ahead, you may want to consider cutting out the dream-feed as that can help minimize the night-time reflux reaction.

      Also- I’m not a fan of the 5-10-15 checks, as it’s a pretty arbitrary method of using check-ins, meaning that it’s based on the clock rather than on your baby. It does work for some people, but it’s not a method I use with my clients. However, I would first put your focus on the reflux/dream feed setup before sleep training.

      Hang in there!

  8. Allison August 29, 2019 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Hello! My 4 month old boy sleeps well through the night (usually at 9 hour stretch 8pm-5:30am) however he takes really short naps as of recently. We had to stop swaddling last week as he was rolling over in the crib and ever since that point his naps have significantly shortned (usually between 30-50 minutes). It seems to get him to sleep for naps he likes to suck more now, so I have started offering the pacifier which does soothe him to sleep. Is this a bad habbit to start at this age? Could it be the 4 month sleep regression? I hate to complain because he falls asleep unassisted at night and sleeps a long stretch, but just looking for any advice on ways to help him learn to soothe to sleep and stay asleep for naps during the day? We do white noise, black out shades, etc.

    • Riki August 30, 2019 at 5:29 pm - Reply

      Hi Allison,

      Sounds like you’re doing great overall! Yes, this could very possibly be the start of your baby’s sleep cycles shifting from newborn to adult (otherwise known as the 4-month sleep regression.) If your baby takes the pacifier quietly and doesn’t need you to come and replace it, I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s when it becomes a dependency issue that you would look to remove it.

      Also, make sure he’s wrapped in something nice and cozy, like the Nested Bean Zen Sleep Sack. Coming out of the swaddle is a big transition for your baby and you want him to feel that familiar weighted feeling.

      More on the four-month sleep regression here
      https://babysleepmaven.com/the-4-month-sleep-regression/

  9. Shan August 29, 2019 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Hi,
    Our daughter is 15 weeks. We had a rough go of sleep for a week starting at just over 12 weeks, waking constantly, struggling to go back to sleep (pacifier or not) etc. and then she has been doing alright, sometimes putting herself to sleep after routine, sometimes requiring the pacifier if she was struggling. Now she cries without the pacifier and wakes multiple times a night and will only go back to sleep with it. Do we just stick it out for another few weeks until 4 months (18 days) and then remove it cold turkey?
    Also, is it possible the sleep issues just after 12 weeks was the “4-month regression”, or do we still likely have that to look forward to as well…?

    • Riki September 1, 2019 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Hi Shan,

      It’s very common for sleep to fall apart around the 12-week mark. It’s usually a sign of the start of the 4-month sleep regression, so you’re likely in the thick of that now. In my practice, babies that are 16 weeks of age can be sleep trained without a pacifier, pending approval from your pediatrician. You’re not that far away!

      More on the regression here
      https://babysleepmaven.com/the-4-month-sleep-regression/

  10. Pauline Z August 30, 2019 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    Hi there!!

    My son is now 5 months old and we are on a solid 6 weeks of on and off nights of sleeping well and I’ve just gone back to work. He used to sleep through the night with a pacifier (it would fall out soon after and he was fine) from about 6 weeks to 3 months old. We then transitioned him to crib and moved him to a sleep sack, which took some time to transition to. I successfully had him sleeping through the night for 5 nights in a row without offering the pacifier and doing some cry it out (by night 3 he would cry for about 5 min) and then he got sick with a bug for 9 days. We are just getting into a flow and I offered the pacifier to him. He falls asleep so nicely! My question is this: if he falls asleep with the pacifier and doesn’t wake up constantly, perhaps once or twice, do I have him cry it out so he learns or should I offer the pacifier? P.s. he only takes it when he naps, is so pleasant and content without it during the day. Thanks!!

    • Riki September 1, 2019 at 4:57 pm - Reply

      Hi Pauline,

      In this case, I would say it’s up to you. I’m always a fan of empowering your baby by teaching him how to fall asleep on his own rather than continuing a pattern of reliance on you to fall back asleep. I would add to this that because you’ve already seen success sleep training your baby, why not give it another go? It’s very common to have to re-train your baby after an illness. More on that here

      https://babysleepmaven.com/sleep-training-when-your-baby-is-sick/

      You can do this!

  11. Ali September 4, 2019 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    Hi there,

    Our son is now 10 months old and he needs to be held to fall asleep, as well as the pacifier. My question is, should we start by trying to hold him to sleep without the pacifier, or should we sleep train him and get rid of the pacifier at the same time? I am thinking the cold turkey method might be too much for him to handle when it’s combining both sleep training and the pacifier.

    I tried the Pantley Pull Out method but he tends to wake up and start screaming/crying. I am not sure whether to comfort him or to let him cry for a bit at that point. What we usually do is give him the pacifier again and hold him to sleep.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • Riki September 5, 2019 at 1:00 pm - Reply

      Hi Ali,

      You know your baby best. If you feel that eliminating the pacifier at the same time as sleep training would be too strenuous on your baby, you can take a more gradual path. Try eliminating the pacifier first, while still helping him fall asleep in your arms. After a week or two of that, once you see that he’s learned to fall asleep without the pacifier, you can move to the next stage of independent sleep and teach him to fall asleep in his crib.

  12. Palwasha Basir September 10, 2019 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Hello,
    My son is 17 months old. He uses a pacifier and co-sleeps with us. His crib is next to our bed in our room. I was wondering, do I get rid of the pacifier first and then sleep train or do I do it at the same time? I have heard that doing both can be too hard on your little one. He does wake up several times in the night, sometimes he wants his pacifier and sometimes I think its because he has not learned to self sooth.

    • Riki September 11, 2019 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      Hi Palwasha,

      It depends. If your baby can replace his pacifier on his own, you might want to keep it at this age. If it’s causing problems at night and he can’t replace it on his own, you’ll want to eliminate the pacifier before you begin sleep training. Good luck!

  13. Shannon September 11, 2019 at 7:41 pm - Reply

    Hi! I have twins that are almost 14 weeks old. They were born at 37 weeks. Do I need to adjust their age for sleep training? I play the paci game with them most nights from 1a-4a (when I feed) and it’s getting exhausting. I’ve tried pulling the paci out as they fall asleep but most nights they wake up as I do it or shortly after. Should I try cold turkey? I’m afraid their cries will keep each other up 🙁 any advice is welcome!!

    • Riki September 11, 2019 at 7:55 pm - Reply

      Hi Shannon,

      Congrats on your twins! Whether or not you need to adjust their age for sleep training is a question I’d direct towards your pediatrician, as 37 weeks is generally considered full term for twins. Check in with your pedi and see what he recommends.

      If the Pantley Pull off isn’t working for you, you can go cold turkey if you’d like, but you’ll probably have to substitute something else (rocking, patting) until they’re ready for formal sleep training at 16 weeks.

      When I sleep trained my own twins, I put them in separate rooms until they were sleeping well. If you want to keep them in the same room, twins usually do block out the cries of the other twin. Separating them was more for my peace of mind than anything else!

      Hang in there- it gets easier, I promise!

  14. Meg September 15, 2019 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Cold turkey was the best option for me! I was trying different methods and this one worked like nothing before. Although I was sleep training while giving up the paci. But it worked for me!

    • Riki September 16, 2019 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      Glad it worked for you, Meg 🙂

  15. Layla November 5, 2019 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    Hi! We have a 6 week old who looooooves her paci… even during her wake time, it seems to be the only thing that keeps her content and not stirring around. Our biggest struggle is night time… she falls asleep after bottle 90% but wakes less than an hour later and just fusses and the only things that soothe her are either us picking her up and rocking her or offering the paci but then we are in there 5 or 6 more times because its constantly falling out. Its such a catch22… i am constantly wondering if we just need to lose sleep for a few hard nights and drop paci cold turkey or keep getting up 10 times a night to replace it since it does soothe her… I know hunger is not the issue and she’s not gassy or anything… she literally just wakes up and fusses because the paci fell out and she wont stop until she is either picked up or it is replaced. :(((

    • Riki November 5, 2019 at 8:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Layla,

      Congrats on the new baby!

      I’m a proponent of using a pacifier for newborns because pacifier use at night is correlated with a reduction in SIDS. This article is geared towards babies that are over 4 months old. I would stick it out if you can with the pacifier. Things change so much every day with newborns, hopefully, things will settle down soon. You can try a Wubbanub if your pediatrician approves it. Hang in there! It gets better!

  16. Eugene November 11, 2019 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    I’m wondering what to do with naps. Is it ok to Ferber at night and wait on the naps during the day?
    Do we do the same process at night as during the day? If we remove all the other sleep associations and use a pacifier now would we be creating a new sleep association?
    Appreciate any feedback!

    • Riki November 11, 2019 at 8:00 pm - Reply

      Hi Eugene,

      I always recommend nap training at the same time as night training. It’s confusing for your baby when you’re not consistent. If the pacifier doesn’t need to be replaced, you can use it. If it casues an issue (see article above) then you’d leave it out. Good luck!

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