Conversations surrounding a baby's sleep are seemingly never-ending. I like to think that's because infant sleep is the great equalizer of all parents. When you finally find something that helps your little one sleep through the night, it's normal to dread hearing it's something you shouldn't be doing. One of these so-called magical sleep cure-alls is giving your baby a bottle at bedtime. But should you put a bottle in bed with your baby? Turns out, it's essential for baby's development that you ask yourself that question, and pay attention to the answer.
Getting a baby to sleep is one of the things that, as parents, we talk about most. "Is the baby sleeping through the night?" "How long does it take to put the baby down for bed?" "How many times are they getting up at night?" I wouldn't fault anyone for breathing a sigh of relief once baby can feed themselves, or soothe themselves to sleep with a bottle.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), however, strongly warns parents against putting babies down with a bottle. For one thing, putting baby down with a bottle can leave a baby associating food with sleep. I don't know about you, but that association isn't really something I want to be instilling in my kids. More concerning, however, is the higher possibility of choking and the probable damage to baby's future teeth. According to the AAP, "Milk pooled in your baby’s mouth can cause serious tooth decay, known as nursing-bottle caries."
The available recommendations are clear: putting baby to bed with a bottle is a big no-no. If you've already started, however, Baby Center recommends a slow bottle weaning process to break the sleep association with the bottle. You can start by reducing the amount of liquid in the bottle at bedtime, until your baby no longer relies on a late-night snack to sooth themselves back to sleep.
Because the soothing may actually be coming from the suckling rather than the liquid in the bottle, you may consider replacing the bottle with a pacifier, too. Of course, if you choose a pacifier, What to Expect says there are pacifier pros and cons to consider as well. For example, What To Expect highlights research that has linked pacifier use to a decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), but a potential con is the attachment your baby might have to the pacifier. After all, and just like having a bottle at night, the pacifier might be a tough habit to break, "especially once your baby turns into a more inflexible toddler," says What To Expect.
Bottom line? Families can and should do whats best for them, and keep in mind that what works best for one family might not work best for the family next door. Experts often make different conclusions about various parenting decisions based on the same body of evidence. This depends strongly on what school of parenting thought they are aligned with, of course, but when it comes to the health of your children's teeth all of the experts agree: putting a baby to bed with a bottle is detrimental and should be avoided from the start.