3 Reasons to Avoid Bottles at Bedtime

If your baby is being bottle-fed, it is tempting to give him a bottle of milk, formula, or juice and let him fall asleep while drinking it, but unfortunately, this is far from being a healthy habit! What could possibly be wrong with such an easy and soothing way to fall asleep?

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Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

When babies fall asleep sucking on a bottle of milk or juice, the liquid tends to pool in baby’s mouth, as swallowing and saliva production decrease. Then the sugars in the mouth are converted to acids, which wear down tooth enamel.  The process is gradual, but this type of severe tooth decary begins to be noticeable on the front four teeth around 12-18 months. In severe cases, the teeth turn into brown stumps that are totally decayed.

Maybe you’re wondering: Is this so terrible, since these are “just” baby teeth that will be replaced by adult teeth later on? Dr. Green warns that baby bottle decay can distort the spacing of permanent teeth. Furthermore, these baby teeth are the only ones your child will have during the years when much of his personality and self-image are formed. It is far kinder to help your baby find alternate ways to fall asleep, rather than risk tooth decay.

Some dentists caution against night-nursing, saying breastmilk can cause cavities in the same way that other calorie-containing liquids can. However, studies have shown that night-nursers don’t have any more cavities than children who are already weaned. In fact, breast milk prohibits acid and bacterial growth in the mouth. Furthermore, breastmilk does not generally pool in the mouth since it requires active sucking (and swallowing) to draw the milk out. Night-time nursing is vital, especially for small babies, and should be continued as long as possible.

Bottle Feeding and Ear Infections

Bottles should not be giving to a baby who is lying down flat on his back, as he would be at bedtime. When bottle-feeding in the lying-down position, formula may travel from the back of the baby’s throat up through the eustachian tube into the middle ear, causing ear infections (Dr. Sears). Hold your baby in a partially upright position during bottle-feeding. This helps prevent formula from dripping into the eustachian tubes (March of Dimes).

Furthermore, the vacuum created inside the bottle as the baby sucks can also cause problems in the ear. According to Dr. Brown: Negative pressure generated in the mouth is transmitted up the tube and into the middle ear where, as a result, fluid can build up. The increased fluid can cause hearing difficulties and infections. Interestingly, none of this occurs with breast feeding, which does not create any kind of vacuum and which actually creates positive pressure within the ear. Breastmilk also contains antibodies that help protect a baby from many infections, including those that can cause ear infections.

Bottle-Feeding and Obesity

In a new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, researchers analyzed thousands of children, identifying those that were still using a bottle at age 2 as their primary drink container, and/or were put to bed with a bottle with a calorie-containing beverage (milk, formula, juice, etc).

The results show that infants who were bottled fed with calorie-containing beverages until the age of 2 showed a greater propensity toward obesity as they got older. About 23% of prolonged bottle users were obese by age 5.

This may be because bottle-feeding encourages the child to consume too many calories. “A 24-month-old girl of average weight and height who is put to bed with an 8-ounce bottle of whole milk would receive approximately 12% of her daily caloric needs from that bottle,” Rachel Gooze explains.

The authors suggest that pediatricians and other health professionals work with parents to find acceptable solutions for stopping bottle use at the child’s first birthday. Beginning by cutting out night-time bottles is an important first step. (Journal of Pediatrics)

Tips to Stop Night-time Bottle Feeding

  • One idea is to reduce the amount of milk, formula, or juice your baby is consuming at bedtime. You want to get to the point where she can fall asleep without drinking a bottle at all. Gradually reduce  the amount of milk or formula by 30ml per night until there are no more feeds. Depending on baby’s age, you can replace bottle feedings with some other comforting ritual, such as rocking, patting, singing, or reading stories.
  • Another way to reduce the amount of milk/juice your baby is drinking at night is to gradually dilute the feeds with water until your baby is just drinking water. And this may be so boring that he’ stop asking for it altogether!

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