If you are a parent or a parent to-be, you have undoubtedly been part of a conversation or two revolving around the pacifier. Carrie, a fellow SLP, mama, and blogger, shares her experience of how parenthood changed her views on this sometimes controversial soother. I personally had babies that only took paci’s for a short while…and then refused them! So I love hearing the perspectives of other SLP Mommies~Katie
Back in the early days of my career, I had a love/hate relationship with pacifiers – leaning strongly to the hate side. Working in early intervention, the majority (strikethrough) a lot of the children on my caseload had, at one point in their short lives, used a “binky.” Many times I felt as though my job would be so much easier if parents would just take that silly thing away. I often felt as though I was fighting an uphill battle. The “Love” was strictly from a job-security standpoint.
You see, I operated from a very strong oral-motor standpoint (and from a very high horse). Children need to develop their mouth muscles to coordinate articulation. Without proper strength, coordination, and endurance of articulators, there is no way speech can properly develop. Persistent and habitual use of pacifiers, binkies, dummies, whatever you call them, impede proper development of oral motor abilities. The majority of sounds in English require tongue tip elevation. Sucking on a pacifier typically depresses the tongue tip and exercises the BACK of the tongue. Quite useful for development of /k/, /g/, and /ng/, but not so much for all of the other sounds. Blah, blah, blah.
I would see children using pacifiers at the supermarket, at Wal-Mart, at the park and I would silently judge their parents. If they only knew the damage they were causing…Do they even realize the kind of orthodontic bills that are inevitably in their future?…Don’t they know the sucking reflux is extinguished at 10 months??? That was all B.C. (Before Child).
Enter this little cutie:
M. was born after a relatively short labor (11 hours total), but after Mommy had been awake for nearly 36 hours. Day one of his life was easy – he slept all day (I wish I could say the same) and all of his family came to visit. Day two was another story. Now Mommy had been afforded the luxury of a few hour-long cat naps, but was beyond exhausted. Baby was hungry and he cried whenever he was not sucking on something. Since I was still grasping onto my B.C. mindset, I tried using a gloved finger to settle him. This was about the only thing that worked, but I was still exhausted. I’m not sure what time of day it was, but I finally asked (strikethrough) begged the nurse for a pacifier. (No, I didn’t bring one…no child of mine would use one of those). I just needed to get a little sleep, and then I would take it away from him.
A few weeks later, pacifier in mouth…clipped to bib…backup in diaper bag…feeling like a hypocrite…guilty conscience on overload, we found out from the pediatrician that M. had reflux. According to the doctor, he needed his binky to soothe his unsettled tummy. Well then, who am I to disregard “Doctor’s Orders”?!? The guilt somewhat subsided. Somewhat. Ok, not really. All those years of silent judgment, all of those lectures I had given…this was my payback:
Fast forward to M.’s 6-month portrait session. The photographer wanted to get him awake and asleep. Well, getting him to sleep required a prop that I did NOT want photographed (I actually had a hard time finding very many “binky pics.” I wonder why?). At one point, the photographer said to me, “What’s the big deal? This is how he is. The binky is a part of who he is.” (CRINGE!) Having that documented in a professional portrait setting was like a having a light bulb go off in my mind. I could no longer deny who he was…a Binky Baby! Sigh. There, I said it.
Jump forward again to 10-months of age. M. was still completely attached to the blasted binky. But, 10-months is the age that the sucking reflex extinguishes, so I tried (not very hard) to take it away. Then he started teething. Well, I’m not cruel am I??? I did limit use of the pacifier to the crib. As soon as I picked him up, out it came. One-year old. More teething? Ok. We’ll wait again.
We went to his 15-month check up with the pediatrician. She asked the dreaded question. I knew the dreaded question well because I had asked it so many times in the past…Is he still using a pacifier? “Yes, but only in the crib!,” I said defensively (Where have I heard this before???). Then I got the lecture. Oh boy! I knew it was coming. I’ve heard it before (mostly coming out of my own mouth), my B.C. attitudes coming back to mock me. You really should consider taking it away…It’ll be harder for you than for him…Once you hit 18-months it will be nearly impossible…he’s getting too old…
Sigh. Who am I to disregard “Doctor’s Orders”? I took away the pacifier during Christmas break when M. was 15 and a half months old. I waited for Christmas break because I thought for sure I’d have to endure sleepless nights while my poor little baby cried himself to sleep and woke up many times during the night looking for his soother. Nope. Nothing. He didn’t need it. I just thought he did. Maybe I should have listened to my own advice. Maybe I should have had more faith in my child.
My overall experience with M. and his binky has taught me so much (“judge not lest ye be judged” comes to mind). To put it simply, every child is different. Every child has a different reason for wanting, or even needing a pacifier. Every child has a different “right” time to get rid of the binky. So, I no longer give unsolicited pacifier advice to friends and family. I no longer judge the parents of the child sucking away at the supermarket. I no longer believe every child who still has a pacifier beyond 10-months of age will be a future speech student, or require extensive orthodontia.
You only get to be a baby once. You only get to use a pacifier for so long. So, while you can…SUCK IT UP!
Carrie Manchester is an ASHA certified speech and language pathologist and is a Certified Early Intervention Specialist in the state of Massachusetts. She currently provides speech and language services in a public school setting, working primarily at the early childhood level (preschool and kindergarten). Prior to transitioning to the schools, she has spent many years working in early intervention settings and providing trainings to childcare professionals. Carrie is the author of a new speech and language blog: Carrie’s Speech Corner. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.