This week I was jazzed to sit down with Amanda Townsend of Simply Spoken Therapy to chat all about pacifiers. This is a topic that a lot of folks have questions about and we broke it down from the perspective of speech and language development. Amanda is a speech expert, having worked as a Speech Language Pathologist for 11 years in a variety of settings.
Amanda dove right in and explained the important difference between suckling and sucking. Suckling is a primitive reflex, it’s what infants do. It’s a front to back motion that they use to breastfeed or to suckle on a bottle or pacifier. This reflex is typically eliminated between 6 and 12 months.
Sucking is a more mature swallowing motion. It is like when an adult drinks from a straw, the tongue pushes the liquid up and back. When a child consistently has something in their mouth (could be a breast, a pacifier, or a bottle), it delays the maturation of their swallowing motions.
Amanda also shares the pros of giving infants pacifiers. They lower the risk of SIDS and can be a coping mechanism. Occasional pacifier use in older babies/young toddlers is probably not going to be a problem either. It is the constant and habitual use that can pose a problem. Around 18 months, kiddos have an explosion of development. Constant pacifier use can inhibit the development of different speech sounds during that critical period. Constant use of pacifiers can also change the shape of the palate, they limit tongue movement and prevent lip closure. Along the same lines as pacifier use, extended bottle use that is habitual can cause problems. However, occasional use (like one bottle of milk at night before bed) for an older toddler is okay.
So, if we’re going to use pacifiers, which ones are best and when do we stop? Amanda recommends the pacifiers with the straight nipples. These help foster that front to back reflex. For all kiddos, it’s important for the pacifier shield to have holes to prevent choking. In terms of when parents should pull pacifiers, Amanda suggests beginning the process at 12 months. By 18 months they should be restricted to sleep time only and eliminated by 2 years. As we are pulling the pacifier, we want to be replacing that comfort object with a coping strategy or at sleep time with another coping mechanism, like a lovey. Being intentional about providing kiddos with another way to soothe themselves can be very helpful.
We finished up by asking for Amanda’s recommendation for cups and water bottles for kiddos. Amanda shares that straw cups are a great bottle alternative for older babies and toddlers. Camelbaks are also something that Amanda recommends for older children who can use them. All of those options encourage the maturation of the swallowing motion and allow for ongoing speech development.
If you’d like to connect with Amanda she can be found on Instagram and at her website. She also sends out a monthly newsletter.
Pacifier recommendation | Amanda's Instagram | Amanda's website