Pacifiers and Oral Motor Development
The mouth is made up of many different parts - tongue, teeth, jaw, and lips – all of which are extremely important for talking and swallowing. Allowing babies to mouth on objects is an important part of their development. They move their tongue around, change mouth positions, process different textures and tastes, and practice biting, all of which are important building blocks for eating as well as speech and language development.
It's important to make sure that what babies and toddlers are putting in their mouth is, of course, safe and but also productive. Certain teethers and utensils are specifically designed to get the mouth moving. The All You-Tensil from Yeah Baby Goods is a great example of a tool designed to support oral development. The dipper side promotes early chewing skills, while the spoon side supports the development of lip closure.
Not everything that goes in the mouth is beneficial
Some items babies put in their mouths are not productive, or may actually hinder oral motor development. Using a pacifier for too long or having a child talk with the pacifier in their mouth can negatively impact their speech and language development. For this reason, I recommend weaning babies off the pacifier by around 1 year old, as that is the time they are starting to talk and develop speech and language skills.
How can a pacifier negatively impact oral motor development?
Pacifiers can negatively impact oral motor development in a few ways:
1. Oral Motor Movement
- When a child sucks on a pacifier, their tongue, lips and jaw repeat the same movement over and over. These oral muscles aren’t moving and stretching in a variety of directions like they do with mouthing. The muscles may not become as strong and agile they need to be to produce sounds correctly.
- When a child tries to talk with a pacifier in their mouth, they can’t move their oral structures where they are supposed to go in order to produce certain sounds correctly. Learning to “talk around” a pacifier can create poor oral motor habits that result in speech that is difficult to understand, in which case a child would need to “re-learn” the proper placement and movement of the oral structures.
- Many parents say they see an increase in verbal language when their child stopped using the pacifier. Even if the pacifier was only used during sleeping times, parents have said their children produced more words and longer sentences after they removed the pacifier.
Weaning from the pacifier
It is not easy to say, “No more pacifier.” My children’s book All Done Binky! can be used as a tool to help parents and babies through the weaning process. The book explains how to discontinue using the pacifier in steps, beginning with removing it when going places outside the house, then putting it away while playing with activities inside the house, and eventually eliminating the pacifier from your child’s bed and finally your home. The bright colors and simple words are exciting and relatable to young children who will want you to read it to them over and over again.
In summary, be aware of what tools and toys your baby or toddler puts in their mouth. Be sure to introduce productive, textured, and tasty items your child can explore. It’s great for language development, especially when you talk about what they have and what they are experiencing. There are so many ways to help your babies bloom!
- A Parent's Guide to Mouthing
- Baby Utensils That Support Lip Closure
- Ages and Stages for Baby Utensils
Michelle Mintz, M.S., CCC-SLP is The Early Development Expert and founder of her company, Baby Blooming Moments®. Her background is as a Speech-Language Pathologist for over 25 years, specializing in working with children from birth to 5 years old. Her therapy experiences inspired her to create her unique company, Baby Blooming Moments®, which empowers all moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, and nannies with children birth to three to enrich the way they interact with their babies and toddlers. Through her company, parents and caregivers don't just watch their baby's development, but discover how to take an active role in helping shape their development and behavior.
Through Baby Blooming Moments®, available in the US and internationally, families get one-on-one coaching experiences, virtually or in-person, to learn essential strategies that can be integrated throughout the day. Implementing her strategies and babyhacks helps increase attention, brain connections, communication, and language during those crucial early formative years when the most impactful brain development occurs. Ultimately, this helps all babies’ and toddlers’ emotional, social, intellectual, and behavioral development bloom.
Michelle earned her B.A. in Speech and Hearing Sciences from U.C. Santa Barbara and her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from Boston University before establishing her private practice in Santa Monica, CA in 1995, having decades of experience working with families. She is also the author of All Done Binky!, a book to help support families with babies and toddlers weaning off pacifiers.