Can the use of a pacifier affect my child’s speech?

There is no doubt that pacifiers can be beneficial for many infants. Research has shown that pacifiers can help soothe babies, help with pain and even protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

However, past the age of one year, excessive use of pacifiers can have a detrimental effect on speech and language development . If a child is using a pacifier during the day, they are restricting the amount of time they can babble, practice their sounds and use early words. The child will also have less opportunity to develop their muscles for speech. Articulation errors can develop, especially if the child attempts to talk with it in their mouth. In addition research has shown that excessive use of pacifiers can lead to an increase in otitis media (middle ear infection) which in turn can affect speech development. Finally, pacifier use can affect jaw and teeth alignment which can cause distortion of speech sounds.

To protect your child from these problems, we advise the following tips for good pacifier use:

  • Start to wean your child off the pacifier between 6 and 12 months. Gradually introduce other ways to soothe your child such as music, going for a walk, holding a favourite toy. Avoid the pacifier becoming a habit.
  • Save the pacifier for sleep and nap-time only and try not to have it available to your child during waking hours.
  • Only use pacifiers that are designed for your child’s age.
  • Keep the pacifier clean by washing it between use.
  • Protect your child’s teeth by never dipping the pacifier into sweet food.
  • Do not allow your child to babble or talk with the pacifier in their mouth.

If your toddler still has a pacifier, you may find it easier to go “cold turkey” in letting go of the pacifier:

  • Be matter of fact about it “when you’re 2 you won’t have your pacifier anymore”.
  • A fairy could come and collect the pacifier from under the pillow and leave a treat.
  • You could “mail” the pacifier to a new baby you know – “you’re big now but baby Caitlin needs it because she is little..”
  • If a celebration is approaching you could leave the pacifier for Santa or the Easter Bunny to collect and a special present may be left in exchange.

Be strong – you may have a couple of restless nights, but usually children adapt very quickly. Make sure you get rid of all pacifiers in the house so that you are not tempted to give them to your child!