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The Effects of a Pacifier on Speech Sound Development

Do pacifiers harm speech sound development?

Let’s take a look at what the research has to say about pacifiers and speech sound development.

Pacifiers and Speech Sound Development — What the Research Says

Pacifiers have been directly linked to the following two health issues that are associated with speech and language problems:

  1. Dental problems: Malocclusion — a condition in which the jaw or teeth are misaligned or malpositioned — has been directly linked to prolonged use of pacifiers. The differences in dental structures caused by malocclusion can lead to distortions during the articulation of speech sounds.
  2. Ear infections: Frequent and prolonged use of pacifiers has been shown to increase the risk of babies developing Otitis Media, which is an ear infection. Repeated ear infections can significantly increase the risk of hearing loss. Furthermore, children with hearing loss struggle with speech and language development.

One study evaluating the articulation difference between children who use pacifiers and those who don’t reported that children who used a pacifier or sucked their fingers for 3 years or more had a significantly higher chance of developing a speech disorder.

When Should You Take Your Child Off a Pacifier?

Some speech-language pathologists (SPLs) recommend stopping pacifier use at approximately one year of age. While others suggest that babies should be weaned from pacifiers around six to eight months of age.

We lean towards the latter because when babies become 6 months old, the sucking or “rooting” reflex disappears, and as a result, the calming effect of pacifiers fades away.

With that said, if your child is one of those rare 6-month-olds who still find comfort in sucking on a pacifier, then you can wait for a couple more months until he is one.

Once your child is 12 months old, you should no longer postpone taking away the pacifier from him. This is because your child’s oral development changes rapidly during his first few years of life.

Prolonged pacifier use can lead to raised or indented palates, which can result in an oral cavity that is too large for normal articulation.

This means a significant increase in your child’s risk of developing a speech disorder that can often require years of therapy to remediate.

Furthermore, sucking on a pacifier promotes an immature suck-swallow pattern, which may result in feeding difficulties and certain articulation issues.

Now that you know why you must take away your child’s pacifier by his first birthday, let’s talk about how.

How Can I Take My Child Off a Pacifier?

Taking away the pacifier from your child should be a gradual and carefully planned process. You should follow these 3 weaning tips to take your child off his pacifier:

1. A Strong Sleep Routine

A strong sleep schedule is the foundation of the weaning process. Babies who sleep well regularly feel the absence of the pacifier far less than those who don’t.

You should allow no more than 15-20 minutes of pacifier use for bedtime and 5-10 minutes for naptime.

2. The Pantley Pull Off

The Pantley Pull Off is a gradual approach to pacifier weaning. It consists of the following 3 steps:

  1. Put the baby down in the crib with the pacifier when he’s drowsy but awake.
  2. Gently remove the pacifier once he falls asleep.
  3. Repeat until your baby no longer needs a pacifier to fall asleep.

3. Don’t Give Up

Once you start the weaning process, the first three to four nights will be tough. Your baby will probably become fussy and cry more than usual.

So you should prepare yourself for a couple of sleepless nights. When you find yourself wanting to cave in to get some sleep, remind yourself that this time will pass.

If you keep following the first two tips, your little one will soon get used to falling sound asleep without his pacifier.

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