Why I Refuse to Make My Toddler Give Up Her Pacifier

Let me stop you before you even start: I know that this is a controversial topic. I know that there are a lot of parents out there who either staunchly believe that pacifiers are for babies only, or they’re downright against them, period. But before you sharpen your talons and tell me that I’m ruining my toddler’s chance at success in life (and her teeth to boot), please tread lightly and remember that, after all, this is my child. Not yours. And we’re allowed to do things differently from each other. Now that that’s out of the way, back to the pacifier itself.

My 20-month-old was always a good sleeper, even from the early weeks. But as she entered her seventh month, everything changed. She was up every 45 minutes, nursing constantly, screaming uncontrollably. An absolute mess was what she was. Call it a growth spurt, or teething, or whatever. I tried everything. I slept on her floor. I stopped leaving the house and my boobs were always available. Nothing I could give her was enough to comfort her, until she randomly discovered a pacifier (she’d never used them as a small baby but I had some lying around the house just in case), and suddenly things started to turn around. 


Then, when she was finished nursing she could use the paci for extended comfort, and was at peace. Then, she could fall asleep at naps and bedtime instead of wailing in desperation when we left the room. Then, she could make it through a 20-minute car trip without screaming so much she threw up. The pacifier saved my sanity. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I told you it even had a hand in saving my marriage. (There are only so many sleepless nights that two working parents can take on end before they start to argue — a lot — forgive us). 

Suddenly, I was a pacifier mom. It’s not something I’d planned but also wasn’t something I felt ashamed of. However, I remembered overhearing friends talk about another friend behind her back when her 2-year-old spent an hour at their house with his pacifier in his mouth: “I can’t believe he still has a pacifier — they should really take that away” was met with nods and mm-hmm’s. Surely, I wouldn’t get the same response to my infant using one, right? Wrong.

I posted a photo of my cutie with a pacifier in her mouth in a mom’s group on Facebook, seeking advice on a totally separate topic. Avoiding my question altogether, several women made comments saying that she shouldn’t have it, or that the commenter was proud her kid had never needed one. It was so weird and rude. At that point, I decided I didn’t want to deal with the scrutiny so I did my best to make the pacifier an at-home only thing. 

Then came the first birthday. And the 15-month mark. And the 18th. And here we are, only a few months old from her second birthday and my child still uses a pacifier. She’s starting to talk, she loves playing with older kids, and we have a very fun life together. She is not sitting in a corner sucking on a binky and watching the world go by. But she does use it in the car, at sleep time, and when she’s in new surroundings (like when I dropped her off at the daycare at my gym the first few times).

And you know what? I’m totally okay with it. Our pediatrician is, too. He’s assured me that lots of toddlers use pacifiers or (harder to break) suck on their fingers or thumbs. Once they start school, the behavior usually “normalizes” or cuts way down, because they’re a.) stimulated and distracted by other kids and, b.) likely to respond to the pack and ditch the pacifier when they see their peers don’t need one. 

Also, right now, I’ll admit that I rely on the pacifier. The pacifier is what lets me have a successful 20-minute business call (I work at home and we don’t have a nanny) or get through a necessary errand when we’re honing in on nap time. The pacifier allows my husband and me to go out to dinner with our daughter once or twice a month and not deal with tantrums the entire time. Most importantly, it helps my daughter feel secure and calm when she otherwise wouldn’t be. And I’m not taking it away before she’s ready. 

Here’s the thing: my daughter isn’t going to start college, or even kindergarten, with a pacifier in her mouth. She’s not going tote it down the aisle on her wedding day or even have it hidden in her sock drawer when she goes off to summer camp for the first time. She will not be a baby forever, and just like she gave up nursing one day randomly, on her own, I know she’ll toss the paci eventually. If it reaches the point where I no longer feel it’s appropriate for her to have it, we’ll have a conversation about it and replace it with some cool, big-girl toy.

But I’m not there yet. And I’d like our friends and family (and those annoying strangers at the park and grocery store) to just back off already and let us do our thing. My girl is growing so much every day, and the pacifier is a part of her current moment. We’ll know when it’s the right time to make it a thing of the past. Until then, we’re plugging up and enjoying the show, because toddler days are as manic as they are fleeting, and Mommy would like to enjoy them as best she can. Even if that means there’s a pacifier involved. 

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Photo: Getty