Should I let my baby fall asleep with a pacifier or bottle?

The short answer is, “no, probably not.”

You’re probably not likely to relax yourself to sleep with a handful for popcorn still in your mouth – for one thing, that would be a choking hazard for you. But for many babies, the idea of falling asleep mid-midnight-snack is more soothing than counting any number of sheep, and for others, pretending to munch by sucking on a pacifier is even more sleep-inducing than that. Getting stubborn babies to sleep is the upside of sending them off to bed with a pacifier or bottle, but there are also downsides for parents to weigh before making a decision about whether or not these particular props make it into the all-important bedtime routine.

Reasons to beware the bedtime bottle

The biggest danger of a bottle at bedtime is the effect it can have on a child’s growing teeth – as soon as the first tooth starts to peek out from their gums, it’s vulnerable to tooth decay, and tooth decay in baby teeth can pass the infection on to adult teeth. When babies fall asleep drinking milk, the milk pools around their newly-grown teeth, and the sugars in the milk start to eat away at the enamel and cause decay.

It’s true that in babies older than 6 months, it’s possible to offer water instead of milk at bedtime, but not all babies will accept water in a bottle, and, more than that, bottles can also impact the positioning of teeth, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children wean off of bottles entirely around a year old.

Pros and cons of a bedtime binky

Pacifiers get pretty mixed reviews from the parenting community – some families can’t stand the thought of using them, while, for others, they’re an expected part of child-raising. A lot of the cons of pacifiers revolve around the difficulty of weaning off of them, and around some parents being annoyed with them generally. On the pro-side, though, studies show a link between early pacifier use and a reduced risk of SIDS, or suddent infant death syndrome. Now, that doesn’t mean that the parents of babies who aren’t interested in pacifiers should worry, but parents whose babies do yearn for a dummy to suck on certainly don’t need to feel guilty about giving in.

On the other hand, there are downsides – just like with prolonged bottle use – children who use pacifiers after the end of the third year run the risk of the pacifier impacting the positioning of the teeth. And while many babies do wean themselves off of pacifiers fairly naturally, many others do have trouble letting go, which can lead to a difficult weaning process.

The bottom line

Like most other things when it comes to your child, there’s no right or wrong way to use the pacifier at nighttime. However, it’s important to understand the possible risks that might come along with it.

  • “Falling asleep at the breast/bottle.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics, Web.
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