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Pacifiers and Speech: What Parents Should Know


​​​Many parents use pacifiers to help infants self soothe early in life. And these parents often question: Does pacifier use affect my child's speech development?

Research shows that pacifiers can impact multiple areas of development. Pacifiers are linked to both possible benefits and potential risks. As a result, research does not have clear recommendations that fit every child's situation when it comes to speech development and pacifier use.

Boys Town Pediatric Speech-Language Therapy suggests that parents consider three things when deciding whether to give their infant a pacifier.

Is your child vocalizing?

Infants should start vocalizing from their earliest months. There is a pattern of speech development they should follow. If your child is not following this pattern, think about when and how much your child is using a pacifier.

Children typically use pacifiers during naps, overnight and when they are upset. If the pacifier is also in your child's mouth throughout the day when they are playing calmly and spending time with others, it might be limiting the opportunities to practice speech and communication skills. In that case, the pacifier might be thought of as a “plug" in a faucet, rather than as a helpful tool!

Here are some signs that your child' speech is developing typically:

  • 6-12 months: You should hear your child practicing with multiple consonant sounds throughout the day, such as bababa, dadada and mamama.
  • 12-15 months: Your child should start to say a few words that sound the same way every time. It's ok if they do not sound exactly the way an adult would say them.
  • 18-24 months: Your toddler should be learning and saying many new words very quickly. They should start combining them into 2-word phrases.

Is your child using the pacifier to calm down?

Does your toddler still need the pacifier to calm down or self soothe?

As your child grows and learns how to use words to communicate their needs, combine pacifier use with simple words for talking about feelings. Sentences like “You are crying, you feel sad" or, “Your eyes look sleepy, you feel tired" will help your child understand their feelings and how to respond.

Eventually, encourage your child to use words to share and manage their emotions before reaching for the pacifier.

Is your child's mouth shape affected by pacifier use?

Did you know pacifier use can affect your child's mouth shape? Potential impacts include the shape of the roof of their mouth and the way their top and bottom teeth fit together. In some cases, these changes could affect speech production as it becomes more complex.

If you have concerns about your child's mouth shape, you can consult a pediatric dentist. Some shapes of pacifier (they might be called “orthodontic") are preferred for children older than 6 months to reduce the impact to tooth development.

Should my toddler use a pacifier?

In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to pacifier use! If you have questions or concerns about pacifiers, your pediatrician and dentist are excellent resources.

If you have concerns about speech development, consider contacting a Boys Town Speech-Language Therapist for evaluation!

Infant and Toddler Care;Speech and Language Pediatrics