Should I give my baby a bottle during the night?

Most babies are wired to sleep for short periods. The sleep pattern of frequent night awakenings is typical for babies during their first year of life and likely protects against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Frequent awakenings are a biological necessity for infants and—as tired as parents may feel as a result—are a positive sign of your baby’s overall health and safety.

Your baby may wake at night for several reasons—because he’s hungry, thirsty, lonely, cold, sick, needing a diaper change, or just missing you. Offering a bottle will only directly satisfy the first two needs.

Can a bedtime bottle help my baby sleep through the night? 

It’s a common misconception that a bottle of formula before bedtime will help a baby sleep through the night. Formula won’t change your baby’s sleep habits. There’s even some evidence that babies given formula at night sleep less than those who are breastfed.

Is bottle-feeding at night healthier for my baby? 

Bottle-feeding is associated with a higher risk of childhood obesity. In part that may be because a bottle-fed baby will often drink for as long as the bottle nipple is in his mouth. He doesn’t learn self-regulation as easily as the breastfed infant because he takes a more passive role in feeding. By contrast, a breastfed baby actively removes milk from the breast and can control how much he gets at the breast by changing the way he nurses.

If I do bottle-feed at night, how can I avoid overfeeding my baby? 

Crying can be a sign that your baby is hungry. The younger your baby is, the more likely it is that she’s hungry and needs to be fed.

But your baby may cry for other reasons too. Before offering the bottle, you may want to check her diaper and offer comfort in the form of rocking or a back rub. If your baby’s skin feels warm, check her temperature to see if she has a fever.

If she does appear hungry, try offering just an ounce or two of breast milk or formula (or whatever amount you normally put in the bottle). Hold your baby close, and watch for signs that she’s had enough (turning away from the nipple, falling asleep, spitting up milk, and generally acting fussy).

Can I put my baby to bed with a bottle? 

You should never put your baby to bed with a bottle. Caregivers who hold their babies during bottle-feeding enjoy better nonverbal communication and emotional bonding with their children. And there are several health and safety reasons not to put babies to bed with a bottle:

  • Your baby might choke. Babies who fall asleep while drinking from a bottle can draw liquid into their lungs and choke. 
  • Your baby’s teeth may decay. When babies are put to bed with bottles or when they are given their bottles as pacifiers, sugary liquids pool around the teeth while they sleep. Bacteria in their mouths use the sugars as food and produce acids that attack the teeth. In the most serious cases, the front teeth can rot completely and need to be removed. (Learn more about oral care for your baby here.)
  • Your baby may have more ear infections. A baby’s ear anatomy is not fully developed. Drinking while lying down can cause milk to flow through your baby’s ear cavity, which can cause ear infections. (Learn more about ear infections here.)

One other safety tip: Breastfeeding protects babies against SIDS. For the safest sleep possible, all mothers are urged to breastfeed their babies.

Last updated September 7, 2017

Suggested Reads