At the end of November last year, I wrote a celebratory post. At a very ripe age of 4 and a half, my kid finally ditched the pacifier! I’d written extensively about Baby C’s pacifier use, but mostly in the context of her sleep issues – mainly, taking a very long time to settle down to sleep and going to bed very late. We had tried, failed, and gave up for years to be rid of the paci; until over Thanksgiving last year, it seemed that Baby C finally ditched it herself.
Except – I spoke too soon with that post. At the end of the week after Thanksgiving, I went to California to visit some friends, and my husband reported that Baby C was taking longer and longer to fall asleep without the pacifier. He had resisted giving it to her, and over the time I was gone, she was going to bed close to midnight, tossing and turning most of the time prior to finally giving in to sleep. We decided to wait it out some more, and gave it another few weeks, but, at the end of December, we finally gave up and gave in. Baby C would take hours to fall asleep, tossing and turning, talking nonstop, and getting upset about her inability to settle down, and we were miserable because we weren’t going to sleep while she was up.
I’ve long been a believer that kids grow out of comfort needs objects at their own pace, but the pacifier has been a thorn in my side, even though she was only using it to fall asleep at night, and then we’d take it out for the rest of the night. She had never really used the paci during the day, even as a baby, but it’s been a sleep crutch since she was tiny, especially with her tendency for hyperactivity toward the evening hours. As we crossed her 4th birthday, I thought for sure we’d be free of it that year (and frankly, I had told myself we better be, hell or high water, even though I’d made the same resolution after her 2nd and 3rd birthdays too). When she seemed to do without it naturally over Thanksgiving, we had declared victory, but her sleep biology hadn’t yet caught up enough for a complete surrender.
As we crossed into the new year, I spent some time doing some intentional monitoring of Baby C’s sleep – tracking her wake-up time, fall-asleep time, whether she napped that day, and who stayed with her at bedtime. For over a year, Baby C had been asking one of us to cuddle up with her until she’d fall asleep, and we’d do so happily, but Mr. Carrot tends to fall asleep almost as soon as lights are out, so he’s not as involved as I might be, with telling stories, lullabies, and more physical touch. We also shifted our schedules so that we were no longer waking her up an hour earlier than she was usually ready to wake up herself. I spent about a month tracking these variables, and what I found is that there really was only one pattern. If Baby C napped, it was inevitable that she wouldn’t go to sleep before 11 at the earliest, and it made no difference whether she had a pacifier or not, she would still take a long time to fall asleep. Same held true if I was out of town and not home for bedtime, which doesn’t happen often, but I happened to have a work trip come up, similar to my California trip back in December, and Baby C took significantly longer to fall asleep, even with the paci. Based on that data, we decided to just let it be with the pacifier. We wanted sleep for ourselves, and we wanted her to calm down rather than be stressed out about going to sleep and not being able to, and until she’s out of a mandatory nap environment, it’s a fight we didn’t want to fight.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, Baby C went to stay with my mom for a week, and my mom was resolute that there would be no pacifier. And lo and behold, we saw a repeat of six months ago. Baby C fell asleep perfectly fine without a pacifier all week. After we got home, we were determined to stay with the practice, and for the full week since we’ve been back, she’s fallen asleep without it just fine. The difference is still noticeable – it’s harder for her to wind down and to stop talking (the paci always seemed to be some kind of physical signal that it was time for sleep; she’d never actually asked for it). But having tracked her sleep for weeks with the pacifier, it became obvious that it really wasn’t doing much in terms of when she went to sleep; it only helped her not talk and toss and turn as much. We decided that we’d put the paci away officially, and do our best to help her calm down in other ways, since we’re laying down with her anyway. And now that she’s getting closer to 5, it’s also been a good opportunity to teach her some lessons in calming herself down. As we speak, Mr. Carrot is laying down with Baby C, but she wants mom and is talking up a storm, so I went into her room, reminded her about how we calm our bodies, visualize the “energy bubbles” coming out as we take deep breaths, and we think of good things to have good dreams. Mr. Carrot was rubbing her back as I slipped out, and it sounds like she’s close to dosing off soon.
In a couple of weeks, I have a business trip, and I anticipate that it might be a rough week for Mr. Carrot, since Baby C does tend to get anxious when I’m not home and have a harder time sleeping. But I also see signs of her system maturing and as we get into spring and more daylight and more opportunity for activity and as she naps less as well, I think we’ll be well on our way to more independent sleep.
If you’re still fighting the pacifier, just know that it will come eventually. I’ve worried about it all – dental issues, “crutch” issues, independence issues, all of it. And on the spectrum of timing for kicking the pacifier, Baby C is definitely at the top of end the curve. But I always believed it will happen eventually, and I wanted to write a post on this yet again to assure anyone like me, who kept Googling “pacifier use 4 year old” and freaking out over the recommendations, that it will be OK.