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Break the bond

Weaning a child off a bottle or favorite blanket takes patience and persistence

July 29, 2011
By Kristy MacKaben,

Photos of 5-year-old Suri Cruise sucking on a pacifier prompted a momentary uproar on the Internet a few months ago. Moms and dads everywhere were shaking their heads in disbelief and posting scathing comments on media websites.

Who would let their kindergartener use a pacifier? Is it neglect? Is it child abuse? Is it Scientology? What is wrong with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes?

Reality is Suri Cruise isn't alone.

Maybe your kid isn't the one sucking on a binky at 5, but maybe he slurped on a bottle at 2 or dragged around a blanket at preschool.

Donita Hord of Altoona swore her child would never be "one of those kids." As director of Begin With Us Preschool, Hord had seen it all.

"I always said I hate it when preschool kids come in here with their binkies. They're too old," she said.

But, her oldest son, Jacob, (now 12) entered preschool with a pacifier.

"He had it until he was in preschool. He was 3, turning 4," Hord said.

Eventually Jacob gave it up but not without a fight.

Weaning children from security objects is one of the more complicated obstacles of parenthood.

Though pediatricians and day care providers suggest different ages for weaning, and the American Academy of Pediatrics provides guidelines, it is ultimately the parents' decision.


The binky dilemma isn't quite fair for parents. Giving pacifiers to newborns is recommended to prevent SIDS, but allowing them to suck on it too long could cause dental and speech problems - not to mention it's not socially acceptable for preschoolers to use them.

Dr. Sathya Aswathappa, a pediatrician with Pediatric Healthcare in Altoona, said parents should try to wean children from pacifiers around 18 months. Children can use it to calm themselves or fall asleep, but parents shouldn't let them sleep with a pacifier all night, Aswathappa said.

"Take it out of their mouth once they're asleep," Aswathappa added. This way, they won't try to find the pacifier in the middle of the night.

Many parents use the pacifier as a crutch by giving it to the child any time they are upset.

"Hold them. Cuddle them. Comfort them. Don't put the pacifier in their mouth every time they cry. Don't make it a security object," Aswathappa said.

Around 9 to 12 months, transition to a stuffed animal or blanket instead as a security object, instead of the pacifier.

At Wee Care Day & Nursery in Hollidaysburg, teachers take the parents' lead, but try to limit pacifier use to nap time.

"I have seen a lot of issues with pacifiers. Once they are in the toddler room, we try to limit it, and we just keep them busy with other things," director and owner Julie Galietta said.

Most children give up pacifiers around age 2, but Galietta once had a child at her preschool who was 5 and still using a pacifier.

"We can't tell people how to parent. If they want them to have it, we can't say no. I think most of the time when they get into preschool, they don't want to be made fun of," Galietta said.

Hord admits Jacob used the pacifier for comfort. As an exhausted working mom, she gave in.

"I work full time. I go home. I have to cook supper. I'm exhausted. It made him happy. It made my life easier," Hord said.

She had initially taken the pacifier away when Jacob was 9 months, but a road trip to North Carolina messed up the plans.

"After a few sleepless nights, we caved," Hord said. "I wish we had stuck with our guns. It wouldn't have been an issue. I definitely missed my window."

When Jacob entered preschool, Hord gradually did away with the pacifiers.

Hord was worried about dental issues, and not being able to understand Jacob when he talked with a pacifier in his mouth.

As they broke or disappeared, Hord refused to replace them.

"We would say, 'Sorry. This is your last one. They're done. They're no more.' He was mad, really mad," Hord said.

Aswathappa recommends reasoning with older children about giving up the pacifier. Some children will be receptive to giving a pacifier to Santa or a tooth fairy.

"Tell them it's not socially acceptable at that age. Reason with them. Use some incentives to stop using it," he said.

Reasoning seemed to work for Vanessa Rieker of Hollidaysburg.

Her youngest daughter, Chiara, gave up her pacifier right before her second birthday. Months leading up to her birthday, Rieker, and her oldest daughter, Isabella, talked to Chiara about being a big girl.

"Isabella and I started telling her that when you're 2 you can't use a pacifier. We'll take the pacifier to the hospital for all the new babies. We said that on a daily basis," Rieker said.

Then, two weeks before her birthday, one of her favorite pacifiers broke.

"She had like five, but I didn't give her a new one," Rieker said.

The pacifier had lost its sucking effect, so Chiara no longer wanted it.

"She just spit it out. She just looked at it like it was yucky," Rieker said. "I thought it was going to be a very painful battle for her and I, but we didn't have that. It was great. She just didn't need it anymore."


Though the pacifier didn't pose a problem for Rieker, Chiara was still drinking milk from a bottle before bed every night a few months after her second birthday.

"That's her baby soothing," Rieker said. Letting Chiara fall asleep with a bottle makes life a little easier at nap time and bedtime.

"If the bottle is going to make her take a nap, then I give it to her," Rieker said.

Besides, Chiara is the baby of the family, and it's emotional to give up that last reminder of babyhood.

"When I see her drinking out of her bottle, I still think of her as my baby. It's so cute," Rieker said.

Ideally, babies should be introduced to a cup at 6 months old, Aswathappa said.

By 9 to 12 months, babies should be off the bottle because they should be getting most of their nutrition from solid food.

"Get the bottle out of the picture when they're done with it. The earlier they use the cup, the better," Aswathappa said.

With older children who have become attached to the bottle, it's important to reason with them, similar to the pacifier situation, he said.

Thumb sucking

Unlike bottles or pacifiers, thumbs cannot be taken away from children; therefore thumb sucking is one of the hardest habits to stop.

Many children are in grade school before they stop and it's often subconscious, Aswathappa said.

"Thumb sucking - that's actually more problematic. It causes more dental problems, and it can be an embarrassment," he said.

Aswathappa doesn't recommend putting sticky or bitter stuff on children's thumbs.

Instead use Band-Aids as a reminder, or stocking on the hands, with the children's approval.

"Sort of talk to the kid first. Make them understand what the problem is," he said. "You don't want to forcefully do it."

Hord has seen older children at Begin With Us suck their thumbs for comfort or just out of habit.

Just like with the pacifier or bottle, Hord said, "Consistency is key. Sometimes you have to get over your own fears," she said.

Whatever your child might be attached to, Hord said to remember they won't be going to the prom sucking on pacifiers, thumbs or bottles.

"It's whatever works for you. Don't stress out too much," Rieker said.



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