Baby Development

Soothers – when and why?

Interesting facts about managing pacifier use

All children are born with the need to suck in order to comfort themselves and soothers play a key role in satisfying that need. Depending on a child’s age, soother can also have certain functions. Learn how and when you can make the best use of a soother and the best time to gradually reduce its use. 

Babies have a strong sucking instinct. From about the 14th week of pregnancy, they can be seen on ultrasound scans sucking their fingers. 

Babies suck when they are hungry, or to comfort or distract themselves. In the first year of life, a pacifier can be helpful in satisfying the huge need to suck.

As the baby gets older, it finds new ways to comfort itself or manage frustrating situations without a soother.

Adults and children often find it difficult to give up the soother. In many cases, it is the first issue in the parent/child relationship where boundaries need to be set consistently and where developmental steps for the child are expected.

We put together all the key information you need about soothers and their function:

Soother function 

Soothers fulfil various functions depending on the child’s age.

In the first months of life, the infant sucks the soother to satisfy its need to suck. This serves as a comfort mechanism.. As children get older, they find other ways of comforting and distracting themselves.

Why does a child need a soother?

 In the 1st year of life

  • Satisfies the instinct to suck
  • Comforts and distracts the infant
  • Helps to ease stress
  • Is a recommended measure to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

In the 2nd and 3rd year of life:

  • Helps the child to comfort itself
  • Helps to ease stress
  • Can be an additional support for a child’s independence

Managing soother use - the parents’ role

In the 1st year of life 

  • Use a soother to help comfort the child
  • At the same time, start to develop other ways of comforting the child (e.g. relaxation through toys, music, physical presence)

In the 2nd and 3rd year of life 
  • Use soothers to provide comfort in specific situations
  • Reduce the availability of the soother
  • Start asking the child to remove the soother, for example, when speaking

After a child’s 3rd birthday 

  • Only use the soother in exceptional situations (e.g. moving house, new family situations)
  • Encourage and use other methods to comfort the child

Weaning off the soother
When is my child ready to give up their soother? The 3rd birthday should be the time to say a final farewell to the soother. This is simply because at this age, the milk teeth are fully formed. When starting to reduce soother use, the environment the child is growing up in is crucial, as is their physical and mental development. 

Physical development
Start to reduce soother use no later than when your child has teeth and is starting to speak. Their physical development has progressed to the point where they can move around by themselves and are beginning to explore their environment.

Mental and emotional development
The soother can help your child to become independent. It makes them feel secure and helps them manage challenging situations, such as separation from a guardian. As the child gets older, they will find other ways of dealing with these types of challenges.
The more your child can do this, the more likely they will be able to comfort themselves with something other than a soother. Do they look at books by themselves? Or are they happy playing by themselves, even if only for a short while? If so, they will slowly be ready to give up their soother. This will be the case for most children around the age of three, with help from their guardian.

Environment and general conditions
As well as their development, the child’s individual situation also needs to be taken into account. The soother is a crucial comforter, particularly in new phases of life. For example, when joining a playgroup or nursery or if they don’t have any brothers or sisters. A move can also temporarily unsettle them. In situations like this, it is reasonable to expect some delay in giving up the habit.

Sources: Maria Teresa Diez, Psychotherapist