Many parents allow their children to use a pacifier, but it is important to recognize that this can negatively impact their development if they use it for a prolonged period. Research indicates that parents should limit the use of a pacifier after 6 months old and work towards weaning their child off completely by the time they are 1 year old (Hanks, 2007). Pacifiers can make life much easier when your child is upset and needing comfort, so you shouldn’t feel guilty or worried if your child enjoys sucking on their pacifier from time to time; however, try to abide by the 12-month rule because beyond that could cause both speech and oral motor deficits.
You may have heard of the term ‘paci-mouth’. This is when children who continue using a pacifier demonstrate a forward resting tongue position; this can affect both speech and language development (Potock, 2017). It can be challenging to transition away from a pacifier, so try giving your child a soft blanket or toy along with their pacifier. That way it will be easier for them as you are weening them off, as they have another item to comfort them (Hanks, 2007).
Now that we have discussed pacifiers, let’s move onto sippy cups. Similar to a pacifier, children ‘suckle’ a sippy cup. As your child develops, so does their swallowing pattern. Research shows that the over-use of sippy cups can interfere with feeding development (Potock, 2017). If your child’s tongue rests forward, their mouth will stay open- this can potentially also alter their facial development. Transitioning your child to a straw cup is a great and necessary change! Not only will a straw cup manipulate your child’s tongue into a more natural, correct position for speech, but it will also give them increased tongue strength. This will assist your child in becoming an effective and efficient eater.
Before you move to a straw cup, you must know your child can drink from a straw. If having difficulty, try using something like a juice box to teach them the proper way to straw drink. A Capri Sun can also be a good option because you can squeeze the juice up for your child to suck through the straw (Hanks, 2007). It can take several weeks for your child to get comfortable using a straw cup. Once they feel more confident using it, cut around 1/4 inch off the top of the straw. Continue doing this every few weeks until your child’s straw has around 1/4 inch left (Hanks, 2007). By cutting the straw down, you are preventing your child from being able to ‘suckle’ the straw; thus, ensuring that their tongue is in the right position for appropriate development.
It is not guaranteed that sucking on pacifiers and drinking from sippy cups for an extended time will cause your child to have developmental issues; however, there is a risk. As a parent, it is your role to set your child up for success; therefore, why risk it? Extended use of pacifiers and sippy cups can cause your child to have weak oral motor strength, inefficient eating, speech and language deficits, and more. Avoid the risk and move away from pacifiers and sippy cups at the appropriate age.
Hanks, Heidi. (2007). Do pacifiers and sippy cups cause speech delays? Mommy Speech Therapy. Retrieved from https://mommyspeechtherapy.com/?p=12
Potock, Melanie. (2017). Sippy cups: 3 reasons to skip them and what to offer instead. The ASHA Leader. Retrieved from https://leader.pubs.asha.org/do/10.1044/sippy-cups-3-reasons-to-skip-them-and-what-to-offer-instead/full/