My Son Was 'The Paci Kid,' And I Have No Regrets

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Elizabeth Broadbent

When Blaise was born, he screamed. Then he nursed. He nursed and nursed and nursed and nursed, and then he screamed again. He screamed so loud and for so long that the nurses stopped by to see what was going on. And you know it’s bad, we joked later, when the pediatric nurses think your kid has a piercing shriek. We tried everything. Finally, we did what we swore we wouldn’t, what every book told us not to. It would cause nipple confusion. It would disrupt breastfeeding. It would ruin his teeth and the mother-child bond.

Fuck it. We gave him a paci, like, as the CDC says, people do for 58.7% of American infants. He sucked contentedly and went to sleep. That’s when I learned, at the tender new mom age of one whole day, that some kids have an oral fixation and need to suck, suck, suck. We started off with the hospital binkies, the green-blue ones that made him look like a catfish when he sucked. They fell out constantly, and he screamed.

We tried the so-called orthodontic pacis, whose claims to prevent dental issues later in life are suspect. But Blaise only wanted the Binkie-Brand Binkie, which is decidedly not orthodontic and is very hard to find. Most kids have that preferred paci, and most kids pick the absolutely most inaccessible/expensive/organic-hippie rubber one. But we found the binkies, and we stocked up.

So, we had a paci kid. And after the initial dismay, I was glad.

Not because I think pacis are cute or something, but because Blaise had a need to suck. And when I say Blaise had a need to suck, I mean that if his mouth was not attached to my boob, it had a piece of silicone stuck in it. He was addicted. According to orthodontist Kevin O’Brien, “Pacifier or non-nutritive sucking is common amongst young children and varies from 60–80%.” So I wasn’t alone in this whole paci thing. That’s why there’s a paci industry of pacis and paci keepers and paci wipes. That’s why you can buy all that paci-related paraphernalia at your local Target. And so in every picture of Blaise, from teensy sprout on up, a green or blue paci blooms from his mouth.

There’s one really great side effect of pacis. According to Scientific American, a study found that “use of a pacifier during sleep reduced the chances of a baby suffering from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 90%.” That’s huge. It could be because babies keep dropping the damn thing, crying, and necessitating a parent to shuffle over, zombie-like, to stuff it back in their yowling pie holes.

And also important, a paci kid isn’t a finger-sucker. I had a need to suck like Blaise did. My well-meaning mother took my paci at 10 months, so I shifted to sucking my two middle fingers. I sucked those fingers for more years than I will admit on the internet. I also suffered through braces for three years, plus a permanent retainer and bumps on the middle fingers of my right hand. I didn’t want that to happen to Blaise. You can take away a paci, but you can’t chop off a kid’s fingers. So, the paci it was.

This paci thing lasted for years. Long enough, according to the New York Times, for it to have “some adverse effects on the structures of the oral cavity, especially after prolonged use.” Blaise’s baby teeth aren’t perfect, but his adult teeth are coming in just fine at age 7 since he’s been paci-less for three years now. In the same article, Dr. Abhinav Sinha says that increased pacifier use is also associated with more ear infections and speech delays. Granted, Blaise had to lisp around his binkie or pop it out to talk. Many Baby Boomers found it disconcerting, especially when he was 3, but we ignored them. Blaise would give up his paci when he gave it up. (And for the record, he sailed through babyhood with only one ear infection.)

Relatives scolded us: When is he going to get rid of that thing? Isn’t he too old for that? But I wasn’t about to take away something that obviously comforted him so much. I wouldn’t cut slits in them so they wouldn’t suck properly, donate them to the binkie fairy, or just confiscate them all and tell him he was a big boy. It seemed unnecessary and contrary to our parenting philosophy (i.e., trying as hard as possible not to pull fast ones on our kids). We trusted him to drop the paci in his own time.

And he did.

Slowly, we began leaving it in the car when we went places. Then we would leave it at the house. The last public place we used it was church, where we knew it would keep him quiet through the service. Then the paci was just for bed.

And then, one night, we tried bed without it. It was a bit of a struggle, but it worked. We were paci-less. At age 4, Blaise was no longer the paci kid.

Sound late? The American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend that if kids don’t stop on their own (which Blaise did, with some gentle nudging), parents should discourage the habit after 4 years old — after four years, not at four years. Despite my older relatives’ dismay, we were actually right on schedule.

And in a Healthline essay, dentist Misee Harris, D.M.D., says, “Thumb- and pacifier-sucking habits will generally only become a problem if they continue over a very long time. Regardless of your child’s age, I would highly recommend a ventilated pacifier, which allows air to circulate. This lowers the intensity of the child’s sucking habit and decreases the risk of growth and developmental problems.” Boom. So basically, stop freaking worrying about the silicone thing dangling from your kid’s mouth — or someone else’s kid’s mouth.

In the same article, parenting coach Barbara Desmarais says, “Children naturally let go of these things when they’re ready.” This was our experience. Blaise doesn’t suck a binkie, his fingers, or anything else now. At his age, I was furtively sticking my fingers in my mouth every chance I got because I never had the opportunity to naturally give up my paci. Demarais continues, “A close friend of mine let both of her kids have pacifiers until they were at least 4, and I can tell you they’re both university graduates with fulfilling employment and have never had any speech issues. One child needed braces, but virtually all kids get braces now.”

Maybe Blaise will need braces. Maybe it will be related to the pacis. Maybe it will be related to the horrible family history of malocclusion. Or maybe he won’t need them at all. I don’t know. But I do know he needed that paci, and I’m glad we had the guts to indulge him, even as nervous first-time parents. He was that paci kid for a long time. But it didn’t harm him. It comforted him and helped him feel secure in new settings, so who cares? I don’t, and you shouldn’t either.

So if your kid’s sucking contentedly on their paci, don’t stress. If your toddler’s popping their paci in and out of their mouth to tell you about the plot of Wild Kratts, keep calm and carry on. You can gently nudge them in the direction of weaning, but let them take the lead. With some help, they really will give it up when they are ready.

And as for the rest of you, out there tsk-tsking and shaking your heads in disapproval, give us a freaking break already. We birthed/adopted/fostered/cared for a kid who needs to suck — really needs to suck, the way an adult needs to drink coffee or chew gun or gnaw on the ends of pens. Everyone’s happy and no one’s being hurt, other than the wallet that has to fork over money for more damn pacis. So MYOB. Be a villager, not a stone-thrower. Offer us support, and maybe a paci wipe if Junior drops his in the Target parking lot.

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