Can I Give My Baby An Empty Bottle (Instead of Pacifier)?

Balint Horvath, PhD

Writer, parent, and veteran of baby feeding battles.


If you’ve been bottle-feeding your baby you may have noticed that your little one often prefers sucking an empty bottle rather than a pacifier. While sucking calms babies and reduces crying, you’re obviously wondering, if you can give your baby an empty bottle. 

Can I Give My Baby an Empty Bottle?

Ideally, you shouldn’t encourage your baby to suck on an empty bottle. Sucking on a bottle causes the baby to take in excessive air bubbles which could cause gas and discomfort. If your baby prefers an empty bottle to a pacifier, swap it with one that has a little milk or water in it.

Key takeaways

  • It’s not unusual for some babies to prefer empty bottles to pacifiers
  • Experts recommend not letting your baby suck on an empty bottle because of the excessive air that can cause cramps and/or gas
  • Toddlers move around more, meaning there’s less risk of gas buildup
  • If you burp your baby correctly, they will be less at risk of stomach cramps

Some Babies Prefer to Suck on Bottles Instead of Pacifiers

If you’ve noticed that sucking seems to make your baby instantly happy, then that’s because it does. Babies start sucking their fingers in the womb and it’s something they find comfort in after birth as well.

Generally, sucking has been known to calm babies, and lower their heart rate, stress levels and even blood pressure. When your little one feels stressed, it’s a natural reaction to suck on a finger, pacifier or bottle. This type of sucking is referred to as non-nutritive sucking as the action produces no nutritive value. 

Some babies, on the other hand, don’t quite make a connection with their pacifiers. While you think your baby is being stubborn, they may just have a better connection to the bottle that also provides them with milk!

Sucking on an empty bottle depending on the age of the baby 

The potential effects of sucking on an empty bottle aren’t as bad for older babies. Toddlers who are moving around are less likely to develop cramps from built-up gas caused by excessive air. 

Since the sucking action (usually on pacifiers) has been known to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation during sleep, many parents don’t mind if their little one opts for a bottle instead. As long as your little one doesn’t seem to be suffering from any uncomfortable cramps or gas, it shouldn’t be a problem. 

As your toddler grows, they will learn to self-soothe without the bottle. However, you should always encourage them to put the bottle down after a few minutes. This will prevent your little one from getting too attached to the bottle.

Giving a Plastic vs Glass Empty Baby Bottle

Glass bottles are generally heavier than their plastic counterparts. In some instances, it can be uncomfortable for a baby to hold the bottle if they want to suck on it. Since plastic bottles are lighter, they’d be easier to hold onto. 

It’s important to ensure that whichever type of bottle you opt for is clean and rinsed thoroughly before use. This will avoid the build-up of microorganisms. 

What are The Effects of Giving Your Baby an Empty Bottle?

Stomach cramps

The most significant concern about giving your baby an empty bottle to suck on has to do with potential stomach cramps. As your little one sucks on an empty bottle, they take in excessive air bubbles. Air swallowing usually only becomes a problem if it happens before and during feeding as it leads to gas, bloating and even exacerbates acid reflux. It goes without saying that this will make your little one very uncomfortable and fussy.

To avoid this, your little one should be burped properly after sucking on the bottle. Correctly burping your baby is the best way to ensure that they don’t get cramps from gas buildup. Here’s a short clip to help you do it correctly. 

Feed-to-sleep association

Another concern you might have is that by giving your little one a bottle before sleep, even if the bottle is empty in that moment, you might reinforce that way the connection between feeding with a bottle and sleep.

This is a vicious circle since even in case of giving an emtpy bottle it might be difficult to break this association and therefore it could be difficult to put your baby to sleep without a bottle. Here’s an article where I wrote more about it.

How Full Must the Bottle Be With Milk? 

For the most part, this depends on the amount of milk your little one is required to have during feeding. It varies for each baby but on average a newborn drinks about 1.5 to 3 oz (45-90 ml) every two to three hours. This amount increases as your baby grows. When your baby gets older, it might be time to consider teaching your little one to use a sippy cup. 


Experts may not encourage your little one to suck on an empty bottle. However, if your baby prefers it, you might have to allow it until they feel more comfortable with switching to a pacifier. Ensure that you burp your little one correctly to avoid gas and discomfort. But do this carefully as your baby might cry during a feed when you try to burp her / him.

Photo of author


I’m Balint, founder of this site and a father (and dad) to a baby-turned toddler. I found the world of babies so fascinating that I started a blog dedicated only to that topic. By the way, I studied physics, engineering (PhD, MSc), and therefore I do a thorough research when I write about something. Since it’s a blog, of course I also write about my personal experiences.

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