baby bottle feeding

Is Bottle Feeding Hurting Your Child’s Speech Development?

As parents, there is so much we need to know. From toilet training to walking to speech, it never ends. Here’s one more thing we’ve been alarmed about. How does bottle feeding affect your child’s speech? Does it affect your child’s speech? Let’s dive into some evidence-based information and see what studies have to say about this

Is My Baby’s Bottle Addiction Harmful? 

So your baby’s stuck on the bottle? Don’t be ashamed, we’ve all been there. Don’t worry, it’s not pathological. It’s actually pretty typical. As parents, we fall into habits that work…until they don’t. 

What’s one thing that no parent ever wants to do? Change what’s still working! Many babies love their bottle and it can be challenging for some to make the switch to a cup. If your baby finds comfort in the bottle but is 12 months plus, you have probably heard it’s time to make a change.

Have you been told to be wary of the negative effects of long-term bottle use? Have you heard that bottle use can lead to things like tooth decay or speech deficits? Let’s look at what studies have to say

There is no unilateral definition of what “prolonged bottle feeding” is, however, the general recommendation is around 12 months of age for bottle weaning (just search “when should I wean my child from a bottle” and almost all sites recommend you start the process around this time). 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the bottle-weaning process begin as early as 9 months and end by 15 months. Why is this the recommendation? There are a few reasons, but they may not be what you expect.

One reason is that a bottle is an emotional support to most children, and they may begin to associate eating/drinking with a way to comfort themselves. However, we want to teach our kids (and ourselves) other ways to seek comfort as they get older. It’s easy to observe that many kids, and adults, turn to food in times of emotional distress, and learning other coping methods from an early age is beneficial.

Another concern is cavities in those cute little teeth. Yes, they’re temporary, but it’s a concern, nevertheless. There’s even a name for the kind linked to bottle feeding, baby-bottle tooth decay, or BBTD. 

baby teeth

This in part has to do with the kind of liquid that’s in the bottle. Juice versus water, for example, makes a huge difference, and breastmilk has not been linked to cavities (numerous studies have demonstrated this). But for some children the bottle provides access to cavity causing liquids all throughout the day and night, and this is a problem.

Additionally, there is concern that these drinks are replacing needed nutrients the child isn’t getting from food, which raises concerns for nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency

Yet another concern is one many may have not considered. One study looks at bottles and their relation to childhood allergies and asthma, hypothesizing that it has to do with the chemicals in the bottles (go figure). 

A small study demonstrated that bottle use also has an impact on the oral facial development of children, comparing it to breastfeeding, which helps establish correct craniofacial development and which supports the functions of correct breathing, swallowing, chewing, and phonation.

baby bottles

Bottle nipples are not as pliable as breast tissue, as much as some bottle companies try to replicate it. Bottle nipples put more pressure on the palate, jaw, tongue and teeth which can interfere with oral facial development.

There are many reasons to avoid prolonged bottle feeding but it can be a hard thing to change. For tips read our article How to Get Your Baby Off the Bottle.

What Prolonged Bottle Feeding is NOT Linked To

At the time of this post, no studies currently show that what a child drinks from (be it a cup or bottle) is linked to negative outcomes for eating, drinking, swallowing, or speech

Because oral motor patterns are task-specific in typically developing children, and because we are able to adapt to different patterns, we can expect children also to develop flexible patterns. Think of adults who don’t always drink from a cup but also use straws and water bottles.

Does not having evidence guarantee that prolonged bottle use won’t affect your child in these areas? No, of course not. It just means we do not have any data at this point showing that it does.

And even if prolonged bottle use in fact does not cause any issues with speech or swallowing skills, there still are the previously discussed concerns to consider. It is still a good idea to start phasing the bottle out around 12 months of age.

We do want our babies and young toddlers to begin practicing a more mature swallow pattern between 6-12 months of age and this does not happen with the bottle. Young babies use a tongue thrust swallow pattern which works just great for bottle feeding.

But around 12 months of age, more mature swallowing can begin to occur with the tongue tip moving up initiating a front to back wavelike motion. If they aren’t yet using a cup much, they won’t be able to get a lot of practice with this skill.

toddler drinking from cup

It’s okay to go slow through the bottle weaning process and your child will probably be more accepting if you do go slowly. Don’t rush but do make the effort to start making changes once your child is eating solids.

Around 6 months of age, an open cup should be introduced as well as a straw soon after. Check out our tips in our Open Cup Drinking article and our Straw Drinking article.


There is no one cup or bottle that will make or break your child’s habits for life, so take a deep breath. I’ll wait. 

Okay, moving on. You want to give your child different experiences and chances to drink from different types of cups, introducing a cup is important.

Keep in mind what’s in your child’s bottle and try to keep sugary drinks at bay, a good suggestion in general. 

Change is hard, both for kids as well as for parents. Be patient and keep moving forward. Before you know it, bottles with be a thing of the past!

Asya Krengauz, MS CCC-SLP 

Asya is a speech-language pathologist who’s gone rogue and decided it’s time to use her passion, writing! Asya now writes SEO blogs, web copy, email marketing, newsletters, social media posts, and whatever needs to be written (really) for other speech therapists and health professionals.

Coming to Pinterest soon!

How to Get Your Baby Off the Bottle

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