Have you done this? This is for you parents who said they’d never do it. Your toddler sleeps with a bottle or binky in her mouth. You said you’d never do it, but there it is! How did it happen?
The Slippery Slope
I’ve been there. Trust me, I know what it’s like to suffer from toddler-induced sleep deprivation. You will do anything (within reason) to get the little one to settle.
Perhaps you’ve even said this to yourself: “I’ll give her the bottle or binky just this once. I don’t want it to become a habit. I just need to get to sleep!”
A week, maybe a month later, you remember what you said to yourself and the feeling of guilt creeps in. Because the binky is still in the toddler’s mouth, or the bottle is still in the crib. I’ve been there as well.
The Problems Bottle or Binky Cause
Things seem ok for now. She’s sleeping after all, isn’t she?
Yes. For now she is. But what if the binky falls out and she goes looking for it? If she doesn’t find it and wakes up fully, she’ll be pissed! This is because the object in her mouth has become a sleep association. That is to say, something that she associates with going to sleep. If that thing is no longer present when she arrives at a shallow sleep phase in a couple hours, she may go looking for it and fully rouse herself.
What about her new teeth? Could they grow in crookedly because of the rubber object in her mouth 8 hours straight? Yes, it could happen. She might also increase her risk for ear infections.
Then there’s the speech thing.
Don’t Talk With Your Mouth Full!
I have met dozens of mothers who worry that their toddlers aren’t speaking when they should. One look at the toddler can tell the story. If her mouth is full of binky, or if she has a bottle hanging from her lips at all times, she probably is going to have a tough time speaking! I’ve consulted on toddlers who do manage to learn to speak around their binkies, but I must say this is rare. Suffice to say these kids aren’t easy to understand. A friend who is a speech pathologist has managed more than one case by simply popping the binky out of her patient’s mouth!
More Teeth Problems
Another typical “slippery slope” story is the problem of “milk bottle cavities“. I’ve seen my fair share of kids who’s mouths look like this:
It turns out that bacteria love sugar. When you bathe baby teeth in sugar for several hours at a time, bacteria that cause cavities have a feast! I know that these parents never wanted their toddler’s two top teeth to rot! I know they only wanted the little one to get to sleep and this was the “only way” to get it done. Well, of course it wasn’t the only way, but once you step out onto that slippery slope, you end up at the bottom before you know what hit you.
The sugar in breast milk or formula is fine for your baby; you’d have to admit it’s good for her! But it is meant to be sucked down and swallowed. Milk was never meant to pool in a human’s mouth for any length of time. The effect on teeth tells the story.
Need a SLEEP COACH?
What goes for milk goes triple for juice. Juice is not fruit. Juice is flavored sugar dissolved in water. There is no good dietary reasons for your baby to consume sugar. How much more so is there no reason for sugar-water to swirl around in her mouth. It does nothing but provide a tasty meal for those bacteria!
Bottle or Binky Before Bed?
As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the binky. It can be the breastfeeding mom’s best friend for the first six months of the baby’s life. Prior to 4-6 months, your baby needs some external source of soothing. Beyond this point, the baby is able to do it herself, so she doesn’t need soothing aids. This is when the binky becomes something much less than a friend. It becomes a habit that you desperately wish you had broken earlier. The longer you wait, the tougher it gets. A “window of opportunity” begins to close at around 9 months. By one year of life it takes a strong parent indeed to pry the window open again!
As for the bottle, it has no place in the crib, ever.
If you absolutely must give a bottle to a toddler in a crib, it should be a bottle of water (sugar-free) and you should do this only on one particular situation (discussed in “The Three Temptations“). After the child has had her sip, she doesn’t need it any more and you can take it away.
I once heard an ethicist say he wished he could climb down the slippery slope with spiked shoes. Sorry. You can’t do that. No one can. The best way to fix the problem of a toddler who won’t sleep without a bottle or binky is never to give either in order to make them sleep. For a binky, you have some leeway until 6 months. With the bottle, it should be easier:
Just. Say. No.
Climbing Back Up the Slope
But if you do find yourself at the bottom of that slippery slope, not all hope is lost. If your toddler really needs something with her in bed, you can replace the bottle or binky with another transitional (or comfort) object. Whatever it is, it should be something she can put in her mouth that will be safe for her. A blanket or stuffed animal can be a good substitute.
Another trick that works well for some parents is a “goodbye” ritual, timed to coincide with a big event like a birthday. My sister prepared a goodbye ceremony for her daughter’s binky when the girl turned 3. They went and threw away all the binkies in the dumpster, and then and bought a nice present for the little girl. My niece was very enthusiastic about the entire thing.
Of course, it’s ideal to be able to avoid transitional objects and goodbye rituals in the first place!
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