Ditching The Soother

 In Bedtime, Naps, Night Wakings, Sleep Disturbances, Toddler, Uncategorized
Let me just say before I get rolling here, that I’m not anti-soother.

What mama could be? We’ve all been saved from a major baby meltdown by the quick introduction of a pacifier into baby’s mouth at the right moment. Maybe they missed their sleep window by a little bit and were getting a bit cranky. Maybe they got an unexpected bump on the head. Or you had to swoop in and take the small toy out of their mouth, and just before they get upset, in goes the soother, and like magic, all is well.

Soothers also have benefits beyond preventing tantrums.

The AAP found that soothers can reduce the risk of SIDS. Possibly due to the fact that baby has a harder time burying their face into soft bedding if they have a soother sticking out of their mouth. So given that very substantial and important consideration, I’m making the following recommendations based on the supposition that your baby’s over a year old. That doesn’t mean this is irrelevant if your little one’s younger than that, but just make sure you’ve carefully considered the pros and cons of taking away the soother before you make a decision. Please note, for those of you with babes who never took a soother in the first place, not having one does NOT increase the risk of SIDS. it simply brings the risk to baseline, at which it is always important to practice the ABC’s of safe sleep.

So here’s the conundrum from a sleep expert’s point of view; soothers can become a problem when it comes to sleep. If baby’s accustomed to falling asleep with a soother in, they almost always end up waking up in the night after it’s fallen out. Then, without fail, they’ll fuss until mom gets up, finds it, and puts it back in their mouth.

So first off, let’s look at why baby can’t just fall asleep with a pacifier in and then peacefully sleep through the night, and then we can look at some strategies for getting rid of the pacifier if you and baby are ready to take the plunge.

Why does the soother hinder sleep?

Sleep, for babies and adults alike, comes in cycles. Many of us are under the assumption that we fall asleep at the start of the night, go into a deeper sleep as the night goes on, then gradually come out of it as the morning rolls around.

It’s true that we go from light sleep to deep sleep and then back again, but it happens several times a night, depending on how long you sleep for. For adults, a full cycle typically takes somewhere between 90 and 120 minutes. For a baby, it’s closer to 50.[1]

If your baby won’t go to sleep at bedtime without a soother in their mouth, then there’s a distinct possibility that they’re reliant on that soother to get to sleep. When they get to the end of a sleep cycle, they get into that very light stage of sleep and might actually wake up. At this point, they’re still tired, but they might have trouble getting back to sleep because, “Hey! Where’s the soother? I can’t get to sleep without it!”

And if they can’t find it, or they haven’t figured out how to put it in on their own yet, they’re going to get upset because they can’t get back to sleep, and they’re going to start crying for someone to come and rectify the situation.

The soother has become a “sleep prop”.

And that, right there, is the definition of what we in the sleep consulting field call a “sleep prop.” Sometimes it’s feeding, sometimes it’s rocking, sometimes it’s some crazy combination of a bunch of things, but essentially it’s something that baby relies on in order to get to sleep that they can’t provide on their own when they wake up in the night.

More than anything, that’s the secret to sleeping through the night. Getting rid of sleep props is, hands down, the most important component to getting your little one sleeping peacefully from the time you put them to bed until they wake up, happy and refreshed, in the morning.

So if you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s IT! That’s exactly what’s happening with my baby!” then you’re probably going to want to take some steps to get rid of that pacifier, and I’ve got a few tips to get you through the process as quickly and peacefully as possible.

How do I go soother free?

When it comes to breaking bad habits, I’m a cold-turkey advocate, and this situation is no different. Toddlers do better with absolutes than they do with moderation, so my advice to parents is almost always to just pick a day to make the change, explain it to your little one, and then toss all the pacifiers into the trash.

Toddlers can often adjust to new situations remarkably easily so long as things are clear and consistent. So don’t save one for emergencies or just-in-case scenarios. This becomes too easy for you to fall back on the soother to get a quick solution if your baby is having trouble sleeping. Unfortunately, then you’re just causing confusion.

Alright, you’ve made the decision, you’ve explained the situation to your toddler. You’ve signed a mental contract with yourself to go all in, and you’re ready. What’s next?

Getting creative.

Now’s the time to flex those creative muscles and come up with a plan. How are you going to spin this change in a positive way? Toddlers typically embrace the idea of growing into “big kids”. So marking it as a milestone can be a big help. Make sure to present the change as a very exciting and positive occasion.

This is a bit of a dirty parenting trick, but you could round this off with the introduction of a  Pacifier Fairy. Telling them that the Pacifier Fairy is coming to collect all of their soothers and, in exchange, is going to leave them a special surprise. Whether that’s something that your little one will embrace, I leave up to your discretion.

One quick side note here:

I’ve seen a lot of situations where parents with a toddler and a newborn or younger sibling in the house will give the older baby’s soother to the younger one. On its face, this seems like a good idea. However, it can breed some resentment from your toddler when they see their younger sibling sucking on their soother. If you’re able to, get rid of your toddler’s soother and get different ones for the younger child.

Prepare for the adjustment.

So, you’ve laid the groundwork, your little one has grasped what’s going on, and the house is now soother-free. Now you’re going to want to brace yourself. Your toddler’s likely going to go a little bit bananas while they adjust to this new normal. It’s nothing to be concerned about, we all get a little irritable when we’re breaking a habit. However, I want you to be mindful that it’s almost never a seamless transition. There’s going to be some pushback.

Let them feel the feel, but stand strong.

When that pushback hits, and your toddler starts to lose it a little, my advice is to honor those feelings. Acknowledge that they are unhappy, frustrated, or sad. These feelings are very normal and when we can see them as that. They become much more easy to dawn our super-parent cape and let them be felt. Holding supported space for your little one to feel the way they feel, fully, without judgment or distraction, allows them to go through the full feelings and come out the other side knowing that;

  1. 1. they are capable of completing a full feeling and
  2. 2. you are there for them regardless of how big those feelings become.

You can acknowledge their frustration. You can offer them as much comfort and support as they need. But don’t apologize or give in. Giving them a soother at this stage is only going to reinforce the idea that crying or fussing is an effective tool for getting their way. Stand tall and strong in your decision here mama and trust in your little one’s ability to do hard things.

Every toddler is  a unique individual. So use these guidelines in conjunction with your intuition. Within a few nights, maybe a week, your little one should be soother-free. Your whole family should be now be enjoying the benefits of those glorious, sleep-filled nights.

[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/baby-sleep/baby-sleep-cycle

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