Sleep Struggles: Bottles as Sleep Aids
Updated: Jun 27
Why It Happens:
I get it, you’re tired and you just want an extra hour or two of sleep. By giving your baby that warm, comforting bottle of milk to drink so he stays occupied in his crib, or even better, he actually falls asleep, you’ve achieved a small victory for the day. However, not only are you creating a negative sleep association for your baby, you may also be causing him or her harm.
I have paired up with Dr. Maureen Copeland, dentist extraordinaire and owner of Cedar Lake Dental, to go over the dangers in continuing this practice.
What’s the Harm:
Besides potentially ending up with a baby that requires a bottle to fall asleep, or is difficult to wean off the bottle altogether, giving a bottle during a nap or at nighttime will result in Baby Bottle Tooth Decay, or Early Childhood Caries.
When your child falls asleep, the flow of saliva in their mouth decreases, resulting in a dry environment that is perfect for bacteria to grow. These same bacteria thrive on sugar, consuming it and making acid which results in tooth decay. This type of decay can be recognized as soft, discolored spots most often seen on the upper front teeth (other teeth may also be affected).
The sugar these bacteria eat is found in cow’s milk, breast milk and formula, not just fruit juice and soda! The natural sugars in milk cause decay if they are allowed to wash over and sit on the teeth for a long time. Allowing your baby to intermittently sip on anything other than water sets up the right scenario for decay.
So, why should you avoid baby bottle tooth decay? For starters, it’s *extremely* difficult to remove decay from a tooth of a conscious infant or toddler under the age of 5. Most young children are not mentally or emotionally ready to handle the procedure in a regular setting, meaning that they will likely need to be treated under some form of sedation with a pediatric specialist. It goes without saying that parents would like to steer clear of this emotionally and financially stressful situation. Avoiding decay also prevents your child from potentially developing issues with eating, speaking, and even having crooked adult teeth. Baby teeth are more important that most people realize!
Good Bottle Practices:
To prevent tooth decay and any feed-to-sleep associations, it’s essential to follow an eat, play and sleep routine. To achieve this, provide a bottle upon waking as opposed to before or during bedtime. It’s important to separate feeding from bedtime by 20-30 minutes. This practice can be implemented at birth but should begin no later than 12 weeks of age. Continuing with these practices will help your child develop self- soothing strategies that will ultimately result in falling asleep independently. AND when we circle back, it’s sleep that we are after!
Here are a few simple things you can do to keep baby’s teeth healthy:
-Keep the bottle out of the crib.
-Unless directed by your pediatrician, refrain from giving baby any liquid other
than milk, formula or water. No juice and definitely no soda!
-Don’t dip pacifiers in anything when giving them to your baby.
-Don’t constantly use a bottle as a pacifier for a fussy baby.
-Implement oral hygiene by brushing baby’s teeth (smear of toothpaste should be
the size of a grain of rice) as soon as their first tooth comes in. This
can be quick and playful, or baby can chew on a clean, dry brush themselves if
-Make sure your infant or toddler is getting enough fluoride to lower risk of tooth
decay (use children’s fluoridated toothpaste as noted above) .
-Try not to share your saliva with the baby via sharing feeding spoons or
pacifiers. Your bacteria can be passed to your child and increase decay risk.
If your child already drinks sugary liquids from the bottle, or sleeps with a bottle that has anything other than water in it, it isn’t too late- you can still break the habit. Gradually dilute the drinks over the course of 2 weeks and get to just water in the bottle.
If your baby or toddler is attached to having a bottle of milk in bed, it will take a little more work to become bottle-free. My services will provide you with the tools needed to help your child learn to fall asleep independently.
As mentioned above, there are negative outcomes to leaving your baby in their crib with a bottle.
Dr. Copeland goes over how it’s harmful and what you can do to prevent permanent damage to their teeth. It should also be mentioned that this is also a choking hazard and has been known to cause ear infections.
If you are looking for guidance and tools to help support you in your effort to eliminate the bottle to sleep association, please book a free discovery call!