Stephanie is a speech therapist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She provides speech therapy in their New York City Upper East Side homes.
My 18 month old son uses a pacifier. I’ve heard this can be bad for his speech development. What do you think?
If you read through the information on my website and blog, you may come to the conclusion that children who have articulation delays often have habits that prevent the muscles of the jaw, lips and tongue from developing to their potential.
Pacifiers are one of these habits. When a child suckles on the pacifier, his jaw, lips and tongue are all moving as one unit. There is no dissociation / separation of the muscles, which is important for articulation. Think about how you say “buttercup”. Basically, your lips come together for /B/. Next, the tip of your tongue touches the area just behind (but not touching!) your top front teeth for /T/. Next, the back of your tongue spreads out for /R/, and then immediately moves upwards for /K/. Finally, your lips come back together for /P/… and you realize how speech is the finest, fine motor skill we have!
When pacifier use reinforces the suckling motion, (even if the pacifier is only used during nap / nighttime) this prevents the jaw, lips and tongue from fully developing, despite efforts that may be made with oral motor exercises. Pacifier use generally negatively affects dentition as well.
I typically feel that the pacifier (and bottles, sippy cups, thumbsucking, etc.) should be eliminated before oral motor activities begin. However, each child / circumstance is different, and this must be taken into consideration.
Should you quit cold turkey? Some kids may manage to tolerate this after a few rough days. Consider WHY your child craves the pacifier in the first place! The suckling action provides deep input to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is soothing. Can we try to provide this input in other ways? Absolutely! These are tricks a Speech Language Pathologist who specializes in oral motor therapy can help you with.