My 22-month-old's pediatrician insists she stops using her pacifier. I understand the health concerns, but I worry what another difficult change will do to her in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

By Caroline Chirichella
September 03, 2020
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The author's daughter.
Courtesy of Caroline Chirichella

After nearly six months, my husband and I decided to take our 22-month-old daughter for a check-up. Between the coronavirus pandemic and our move from Naples to Puglia, Italy, our daughter's last appointment was in February. During the lockdown, we agreed we didn't want to step foot in a doctor's office unless it was absolutely necessary. But, with the numbers going down in Italy, we figured it was time.

Immediately upon seeing my daughter, the doctor said he didn't want to see her with a pacifier in her mouth at the next visit. My expression clearly gave me away because the doctor told me, albeit jokingly, "Don't make that face at me."

Her doctor explained that long-term use of pacifiers can lead to dental problems. Pediatric dentists recommend limiting pacifier use once a child is 2 and completely eliminating them by age 4. And the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even recommends weaning babies off the pacifier after six months in order to avoid otitis media, an infection of the middle ear.

I understand the damage that can be caused. But I also fear the possible damage of taking a major source of comfort and tranquility away from my kid during a time when more than enough has changed for her. My almost 2-year-old has already had to deal with a lot like having to kiss her grandpa through a computer screen, not being able to play at her friends' homes, and not running around at a park, while not really understanding why. So, the pacifier stays … for now.

Unfortunately, from a medical point of view I know I'm in the wrong. I acknowledge the pacifier needs to go sooner than later. "As the child becomes older, it becomes slightly more difficult to rid of some of these habits," says Sara Siddiqui, M.D., a pediatrician at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group. "Pacifier and the bottle are usually soothing tools the child uses for sleeping or calming. It is important to try and maintain a regular schedule and decrease usage of pacifiers and bottles especially by the age of 2." After 2 years old, adds Dr. Siddiqui, it can begin to hinder speech development.

But my daughter's pacifier gives her a sense of peace. It helps her sleep. It has been a constant source of security from when she was born. I can absolutely understand the logic of it from a medical point of view, but from the point of view as a concerned mother, not so much. My daughter won't be able to understand why I'm taking her pacifier away, even if of course, it is for her own good. And with all the big changes she's felt in the last few months, I fear her dealing with another one.

With that said, I do plan on weaning my daughter of said pacifier in the coming months, when I feel my daughter will be more ready. Though I'm not exactly looking forward to the transition, Dr. Siddiqui offers some good advice to make it easier. "I usually recommend replacing with another soothing object, like a mom-scented small blanket or small stuffed animal. Use this replacement item at the same time of the bottle or pacifier and get them used to the new soother. Slowly decrease usage of the pacifier."

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have thought twice about the doctor's advice and that pacifier would be gone. I only want what is best for my daughter and in no way do I want to be responsible for causing any developmental issues. But we're not living in normal circumstances and we need to be realistic about that. For now, I'm just following my motherly instinct and doing what I feel is best, which is all we can do as parents during these uncertain times.

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