Is Using Pacifiers and Bottles Harmful to Children?

· March 15, 2019
When a mother can't breastfeed her baby, she may be forced to put a bottle and pacifier in her baby's mouth. However, they should not be used for more than one to two years, if possible.

Using pacifiers and bottles is very common. There are mothers and fathers who choose to use both of them, while others avoid them.

There is a lot we don’t know about them, but what’s certain about this topic is that there is controversy about the effects they have on a baby’s health. Overall, there are arguments that both are fundamental when it comes to soothing and feeding the baby, but there are also contrary views.

Mothers today are faced with two widely-used instruments. They can certainly be beneficial in one sense, but their use also has a very negative impact. Below, you can learn more about some of the truths behind using pacifiers and bottles.

Pacifiers and Bottles: How Do They Work?

Pacifiers and bottles provide comfort to babies like this one

The use of both pacifiers and bottles is linked to the natural sucking reflex of babies. This reflex appears as of the 32nd week of gestation, but it fully develops in the 36th week.

The sucking reflex, along with the swallowing reflex, ensures the baby’s survival. Thanks to them, they can feed themselves and, in turn, the suction calm them down when they’re stressed. That’s why babies suck on their fingers to calm down.

These reflexes usually disappear around the age of six months. A baby will use it to latch on the chest of their mother in order to feed and feel calm. If the baby doesn’t get any breast milk, these reflexes will also help the baby use a pacifier to calm down and drink a bottle to feed themselves.

Read this article, too: How to Calm Your Baby’s Hiccups

Why Use Pacifiers and Bottles?

Breastfeeding mothers who try introducing the use of pacifier don’t always get good results. Obviously, babies prefer their mother’s breast not only for food, but also because it calms them down.

When it comes to babies that can’t get breastfed, pacifiers and bottles can replace their mother’s breast. The pacifier involves non-nutritive sucking that has the calming effect, while the second allows nutritive sucking.

Pediatricians often conflicting positions regarding what age is preferable for a child to use pacifiers and bottles. Some will say that this should take place as of the first year of life. Others accept that the bottle should be used as of 18 months and the pacifier should be extended until the age of 18 to 24 months. Afterward, they’re unnecessary.

How Can Using a Pacifier of Bottle be Harmful?

When a baby sucks from a bottle, it’s simpler than sucking from their mother’s breats. However, due to the milk coming out by itself, the muscle tension (hypotonia) of the tongue and lips reduce and the cheeks can hypertrophy.

In contrast to sucking their mother’s nipple, there is more movement. The nipple of the bottle is placed in the back of the mouth, which requires a coordination of movements between the jaw and tongue in order to remove milk.

As a baby grows, sucking and swallowing stop being a reflex. They gradually become voluntary acts, because they’re necessary for chewing and eating. Likewise, the parts that involve speech are also developed.

The Implications of Long Term Use

A child that’s fed with a bottle must improvise patterns of sucking, swallowing and breathing to dispense the contents and swallow them without choking. However, using a bottle more than a pacifier for a long period of time can have negative effects on a child’s development:

  • Risk of inhaling food. The reorganization of the muscle may cause a child to regurgitate and inhale the food.
  • Prolonged episodes of apnea. Infants who drink formulas tend to have a deeper sleep, but they may have episodes of disrupted breathing or periods in which they have very shallow breathing while sleeping.
  • Congested adenoids due to abnormal swallowing. This, in turn, increases the risks of the appearance of otitis and other respiratory conditions.
  • They can develop the habit of mouth breathing. This can trigger respiratory infections, reduction of their hearing, alteration of the thorax and maxillofacial development.
  • The cervicocraneal posture and vertical axis of the body can alter. Malfunctioning of the tongue and jaw cause bad positioning of the head and neck regarding the waist and the vertical axis of the body in order to compensate for the dysfunction.
  • Theor maxillodental development is affected. When a child uses bottles, they don’t put that much effort in sucking it, which is very important for balancing the pressure of the internal (tongue and soft palate) and external (lips and cheeks) muscles.
  • There is an increased risk of cavities, especially if children drink before sleeping. The sugar or sugary foods that are added to the formula stick to their teeth. This happens when babies drink from their bottle as they fall asleep because they’re unable to clean them.
  • Due to not properly developing their masticatory muscles, problems with the fono-articulacion of language can appear. Thus, there may be delays in speech development.

Check out this article, too: How is breast milk produced?  

I Can’t Breastfeed: What Should I Do?

Baby with pacifier

If you can’t breastfeed, it’s best to use a pacifier and bottle for the least amount of time possible. However, there are mothers who use glasses with straws, and even small spoons, before using a bottle and don’t let their baby use a pacifier. Carefully think this decision over to determine if this will work for you and your baby.

In any case, the important thing is to not let these instruments be associated with their bed time. Otherwise, this can create an dependency that can last for more years.

Allowing the abusive use of a pacifier and bottle can cause your child to become a future user of orthodontic appliances in order to correct possible problems swallowing and the deformation of their bones and teeth. Unfortunately, it could also lead to a future need for speech development therapy.

While this doesn’t happen to all children, the odds can increase after extended or abusive use of pacifiers and bottles.

  • Li, R., Fein, S. B., & Grummer-Strawn, L. M. (2010). Do Infants Fed From Bottles Lack Self-regulation of Milk Intake Compared With Directly Breastfed Infants? PEDIATRICS. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2009-2549
  • Stevens, E. E., Patrick, T. E., & Pickler, R. (2009). A History of Infant Feeding. Journal of Perinatal Education. https://doi.org/10.1624/105812409X426314
  • Moral, A., Bolibar, I., Seguranyes, G., Ustrell, J. M., Sebastiá, G., Martínez-Barba, C., & Ríos, J. (2010). Mechanics of sucking: Comparison between bottle feeding and breastfeeding. BMC Pediatrics. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2431-10-6