Pacifiers aren’t all bad!
There are a variety of pacifiers out there and there isn’t one that is better for development over the other. The purposes behind these magical devices are to provide comfort to your child in stressful situations, be used as a sleep aid, help with reduction of reflux, etc.
Then why do pacifiers have a bad reputation?
While the use of pacifiers is not initially detrimental to development, the prolonged use of a pacifier can begin to cause interruption in the development of speech sounds, improper teeth alignment, feeding difficulties, and increased middle ear infections.
How is the pacifier my infant is using going to affect his/her speech?
As your child is being introduced to different foods and consistencies, they are developing the oral motor skills necessary to eat these new foods safely. They are working on opening and closing their lips, moving their tongue out and side-to-side of their mouth, and beginning to move their jaw up-and-down before gradually moving to a circular type chew. These oral motor skills are necessary for when your child begins making different sounds and stringing them together (e.g. ba-ba, da-da). The prolonged use of a pacifier will delay this development by allowing the child to continue to practice the skills they have already mastered and not these new skills.
Prolonged pacifier use can also have an effect on speech by causing improper teeth alignment and palate height. The pacifier is considered a foreign object not meant to be in the mouth for prolonged periods of time. A child’s palate and jaw are constantly developing during the first few years and a pacifier can cause them to grow around the structure of the pacifier. This leaves the appearance of an ‘open bite’ when they do not have a pacifier in their mouth. A child’s speech is then affected because the specific spots necessary for the tongue to hit to produce certain sounds are affected.
It is common for an infant to depend on a pacifier for the first few months to 12 months of age. The weening process should begin between 2-3 years old to avoid delays in development of their feeding and speech skills.
Ways to decrease and eliminate the use of a pacifier:
-Set your child up for success: make sure there are not too many changes at one time
-Make a plan: if you are decreasing the use, make sure to set specific guidelines around when the pacifier is to be used and is consistent with all caregivers
-Getting rid of pacifiers for a cause: if you have become successful with decreasing the use of pacifiers but having a difficult time getting rid of them completely, find a cause your child can relate to (e.g. baby animals, other babies) and have them ‘donate’ their pacifiers to the ‘babies in need’.
-Back-up comfort items: Remember your child uses their pacifier as a comfort item, so make sure to have appropriate replacement items near by
-Give lots of praise: provide them with lots of positive attention towards the activities they are completing and away from their pacifiers.
How do I know if my child needs to see a Speech-Language Pathologist?
Always consult with your pediatrician first with any concerns regarding their speech and feeding development. Important topics to discuss with your pediatrician are their feeding habits and types of food their eating, as well as sound development. If you notice they are coughing on food, over-stuffing during meals, not tolerating different types of food, or speech sound errors, ask your doctor for a referral for a speech and feeding evaluation.
Why make the referral for an Eyas Landing evaluation?
Eyas Landing’s team of Speech-Language Pathologists are highly versed in the realm of oral motor and speech sound development. They will be able to customize a program specific to your child’s needs and support you through the process with home activities to promote feeding and speech development.