Say Goodbye to the Pacifier

For fear of scaring you away, I’ll start with the end. It has been just over two weeks since I took the pacifiers away from my 3-year-old daughter, Liliana. I’m happy to report that she is doing great! She is sleeping through the night without a pacifier and rarely even asks for one anymore. I’m blown away by her progress.

Now for the process of getting to this point. Let’s backtrack for a minute.

When I was pregnant with Liliana, I swore that I would never give her a pacifier. I started breastfeeding her when she was born. Breastfeeding was going well, but she initially had a shallow latch which caused my nipples to crack and blister. I was in tremendous pain. As most newborn babies do, she wanted to nurse around the clock. I was getting little to no time between feeds to let my nipples heal. This is when I understood the role of a pacifier. I needed something for her to suck on for satisfaction for a few minutes between feeds to give me some relief. It was at this moment that I realized sometimes we just need to do whatever it takes to survive the day and stay sane as new mothers, even if it isn’t “best practice.”

My midwife encouraged me to wait to introduce a pacifier until breastfeeding was well established. She advised me to wait until after my daughter had passed her birth weight. This was to make sure she was getting enough calories from my milk and not burning calories unnecessarily from sucking a pacifier all day. It was really important to me to breastfeed, and I committed to doing everything in my power to be successful. So, I listened and held off on introducing one.

When Lil was about 6 weeks old, I hit a wall. I caved and I gave her a pacifier. What a game-changer. She loved to fall asleep on the boob, long after she had finished eating. I started sneaking the pacifier into her mouth after she was finished actively eating. This allowed me to put her down while she was asleep (some of the time), or hand her off to someone else. Exclusively breastfeeding is a fulltime job during the newborn stage. I really needed to be able to put her down at times when she was asleep so I could do things like eat a meal, shower and recover. The pacifier bought me time and for that I was grateful.

Lil took to the pacifier right away. She loved it. When she was around 7 months old, we stopped co-sleeping and “sleep trained” her in a crib in her own room. I use quotes because that term has always irritated me, but alas, it is what we did. Based on what the baby sleep books were saying, we knew this would be a good time to get rid of the pacifiers.

Instead, we got her more of them.

I lined her crib with a breathable mesh bumper and put about 10 pacifiers in there. I wanted her to have something to self-soothe with because I felt guilty about not co-sleeping anymore. She was used to nursing the night away, right up next to me. She did really well with sleep training and got even more attached to her pacifiers.

As she got older, we limited the pacifier use to just naps and bedtime. But it often extended to stroller rides, car rides, sick days, days when teething was bad, and soon it felt like she had a pacifier in her mouth most of the day. Initially, one of my main concerns with the pacifier was that it would delay her speech development. But it didn’t appear to be affecting her language skills in any way. That made me feel like there wasn’t much of a downside to her using one. It made her so happy, and quite frankly, it made our days a lot easier.

Shortly after she turned two-years-old, we took her to the dentist for the first time. We were told that Lil was developing an “open bite.” Our dentist told us that we should plan to eliminate the pacifier by the time she turns three. She told us that if we take the pacifier away prematurely, Liliana could resort to sucking a finger or thumb. This is something she had seen a lot in her practice. We left that appointment with the plan to get rid of the pacifiers at her third birthday.

After that denist appointment, my husband and I got a bit more strict about limiting her pacifier usage to only naps and bedtime. We found that as she was developing larger emotions, she began relying on it more for comfort and it was becoming problematic. When she was having a tantrum at home, she would run to her room to grab a pacifier from her bed. At the moment, it was helpful that she could find a way to calm herself down. But, I knew that this wasn’t a sustainable solution long term and that she needed to learn how to cope with her emotions in different ways. We felt strongly that the pacifier needed to go soon.

A few months before Liliana’s third birthday, we repeatedly talked to her about how she would be turning 3 soon and what was going to happen when she did. We wanted her to be well-prepared for this milestone, and didn’t want to blind-side her. We talked about how we would collect all her pacifiers in a bag to leave for “The Suce Fairy.” (In my house, we actually call it a pacifier a “suce,” pronounced “soose.” The French word for a pacifier is “sucette.”)

We said that the Suce Fairy would take the bag of suces and bring them to a new baby who needed them. We told her that she would get an extra special gift in return. She seemed to understand the plan and was on-board with it. My husband wasn’t keen on using this method because he didn’t like that our plan involved deceiving her. I agreed with him, but I had already mentioned The Suce Fairy to her once, and she fixated on it. So I felt like I had to commit to this plan.

Liliana turned three on a Friday. Earlier that week on Tuesday, she started preschool. I feel the need to emphasize how massive of a transition this was for her because of the timing of the events overlapping.

This was Liliana’s first time ever attending a drop-off program or daycare without me. For three years we had spent every single waking moment together, and many non-awake moments together too! I knew this transition was going to be huge for her, but I also knew in my heart and gut that she was more than ready for it. She needed the stimulation, the outlet for her energy, the structured day, the socialization – all of the amazing aspects that come with preschool. She was going to thrive.

Before she started preschool, I spoke with her teachers about how she was still using a pacifier to go to sleep. They told us that they strongly discourage pacifiers in the preschool classroom and that it’s often a good time to get rid of them at home too. This advice from her teachers combined with the previous advice from her Dentist solidified our decision to take it away when she turned 3-years-old.

Friday, the day she turned 3, was also her first full day at preschool. Tuesday through Thursday of that week, she had been going for shorter days as she built up to a full day. Friday she had her first nap at preschool, and it was without a pacifier. We were shocked when her teachers told us that she slept without one. It gave me hope and confidence for the rest of the process of eliminating the pacifiers. We now knew that it was possible for her to sleep without one.

When Lil got home from school on her birthday, we took her into her room to show her the new dollhouse we bought her in exchange for the pacifiers. Together we collected the pacifiers in a bag. We brought them to the front door where we told her The Suce Fairy would take them at night and bring them to a new baby who needs them. She was actually being really cool about it. She kept saying, “Bye suces! See ya later! Have fun with your new baby!” Her reaction led me to believe that bedtime would be a breeze.

Wrong-o.

Perhaps it was the combination of her first week of preschool, the sugar from the cake and cupcake she ate that day for her birthday, and the fact that she couldn’t fully grasp that the pacifiers were not coming back. All I know is that things got hairy, quickly.

When we started getting her ready for bed, she immediately asked where her suces were. We had to explain again that they were gone and they weren’t coming back. It completely broke my heart to watch the saddness wash over her as this new reality sunk in. She cried. A lot. She thrashed around. A lot. She yelled and screamed and kicked around in her bed. She left her bed and room a million times. She kept telling us how she didn’t want to be a big girl anymore and that she wanted to be two again. She told us that suces make her so happy – she needed them. Cue the Mom guilt.

All I wanted to do was cave in and give them back to her. But I had to remain strong and stick with the plan. I figured that no matter when we did this transition, it was going to be hard, so why not now!

We told her that we knew this was going to be very hard for her, but that it would get a bit easier each night. We talked about why she felt that she needed the pacifiers. We talked about how they made her feel happy, safe and sleepy. And we talked about other ways that she could get those same comforting feelings from myself and her Dad.

We put a lot of effort into staying as patient as we could with her during this process. Admittedly, we were not always successful with staying patient when she was literally kicking us as we put her into bed, and waking her baby brother in the next room with her screaming – it was frustrating. It’s not easy watching your kid go through something that’s difficult for them.

We gave her as much extra love and attention as we could. I wanted to help her get that same sense of security that she was yearning for from the pacifiers. We were trying our best to understand how earth-shattering this transition was for her and empathize with her while reminding her that she is a strong, brave girl who can do anything. 

Sometime after 11PM that first night, she fell asleep reluctantly. Bedtime took 4 hours that night. I felt terrible that it was so hard for her. I also felt terrible that I was going through waves of being very compassionate and patient, to very frustrated that she wouldn’t just back down and go to sleep already. She completely wore my husband and me down. The next day, she woke up at 6AM (much earlier than usual), and the first thing she said when I walked into her room was, “Mom, I’m really sad without my suces.”

Again, my heart re-broke into a million pieces. I felt like the worst Mom and questioned my decision to take them away. But I knew that we just couldn’t go back on our decision, after prepping for this moment as long as we did. So we pushed on. All of us.

The rest of day 2 without pacifiers was one of the most challenging days we’ve experienced in the 3 years we’ve been parents. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It was a nightmare. It was basically an endless meltdown from sunrise to sunset. It didn’t help that we have a one-year-old son to take care of as well.

She had slept 5 hours less than usual that night, so she was beyond overtired, combined with being overwhelmed from the week of mentally processing the shift into preschool, and adjusting to spending time away from me for the first time in her life. It was a lot for one little girl.

I appreciate that this is probably not inspiring you to take your child’s pacifier away. Truthfully, it was a soul-sucking process and it was much harder than we thought it would be. In the same way that sleep training was. It took every ounce of willpower that my husband and I had to try to stay calm and composed during this new, lengthy bedtime routine. It was hours of screaming and crying. He and I would switch off to relieve the other when we could hear the other’s patience run out through the baby monitor. It was a team effort. We gave her Bach Rescue Remedy Kids to help her calm down. She had never cried so hard and she was so darn tired.

By day 3, after she got a bit more sleep, things started to improve. There were far fewer tears and much less resistance. Still a lot of sadness, but we continued to talk through the emotions with her and reassure her that she could do this. The first few nights she woke up in the middle of the night needing extra cuddles and comfort. During the days, we gave her lots of positive attention and love. She was definitely needing more comfort from us – physically and emotionally.

Night 4 was a hard one again. She was begging for a suce with a desperation that was hard to see. She was thrashing around her bed so much that we were worried she would fall out of it and get hurt. We compromised with her and said she could sleep in the ‘pack n play’ in her room (something she loves to do). We knew that sleeping in there would give her a sense of security and comfort. It also gave us sense of relief knowing that she was safe in there and wouldn’t fall out of her bed, or continuously leave her room.

She slept in the pack n play, in her room, for 3 nights before going back to her bed, willingly. Each day since then has been getting a little bit easier and smoother. Bedtime isn’t taking as long and she’s getting more comfortable going to bed without the pacifier. Just like with sleep training, the first few days are the hardest and it gets worse before it gets better. But it does get better. I promise.

Now that it’s been two weeks, I’m reflecting on the journey we just had. I wonder if this transition would have gone smoother if we didn’t do it at the same time she was trying to process the massive change of starting preschool the same week. My concern was having two huge transitions close together, rather than ripping off a massive bandage all at once. Maybe that wasn’t the right choice. Maybe that makes me a mean Mommy. It felt like the right thing to do at the time and we did our best to do what we thought was best for her.

What I know for sure is that my daughter is a strong-willed, determined little girl, capable of anything. I knew that this process would be hard for her, but we believed in her and knew she could do it. I believe that this experience, though difficult, made her stronger, more resilient and more adaptable. We all want the best for our kids and for them to be happy. But I truly feel that it’s not the worst thing for kids to be challenged from a young age to overcome obstacles that force them to learn and grow. It’s empowering and builds character.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen her work hard to vocalize how she feels, compared to popping a pacifier into her mouth. She is making massive strides in her verbal communication when she’s upset. The growth she’s shown us is something we’re so incredibly proud of. She’s our little powerhouse and I know that this challenging milestone is the first of many that she’ll conquer with great fortitude.