I Refused to Toss My Toddler's Pacifier During the Pandemic

My then 22-month-old's pediatrician insisted she stop using her pacifier. I understood the health concerns, but I worried about what another difficult change would do to her in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The author's daughter.
The author's daughter. Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Chirichella

My husband and I finally decided to take our then 22-month-old daughter for a check-up. Between the coronavirus pandemic and our move from Naples to Puglia, Italy, she was overdue. During the 2020 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 understood the damage that could be caused. But I also feared the possible damage of taking a major source of comfort and tranquility away from my kid during a time when more than enough had changed for her. My almost 2-year-old had 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 was going to stay…at least a little longer.

Unfortunately, from a medical point of view, I knew I was in the wrong. I acknowledged the pacifier needed to go sooner rather 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, it can begin to hinder speech development, she adds.

But my daughter's pacifier gave her a sense of peace. It helped her sleep. It had been a constant source of security since she was born. I could absolutely understand the logic of it from a medical point of view, but from the point of view of a concerned mother, not so much. My daughter wouldn't be able to understand why I took her pacifier away, even if it was for her own good. And with all the big changes she felt in 2020, I feared her dealing with another one.

With that said, I made the decision not to take my daughter's pacifier away right then with the plan to wean her off it in the months that followed, when I felt she would be more ready. Though I wasn't 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 weren't living in normal circumstances, and we needed to be realistic about that. Both then and 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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