How to Wean Your Toddler From the Bedtime Bottle

Toddlerhood is that age where your child is no longer an infant but not quite yet a kid. The toddler age can range anywhere between twelve to thirty-six months. Exact age definitions of toddlers may vary depending on factors such as culture and parents’ beliefs.

It is an exciting time of rapid physical and mental development. Toddlers, as the name suggest, have the distinct toddling walk where they are capable but not yet so adept at walking or running. Another milestone that toddlers typically achieve within this period is night weaning, otherwise called as “sleeping through the night”.

Later on, parents typically reduce night feeding to that final bottle or breastfeed before bedtime. However, it’s not really healthy for toddlers to fall asleep with a bottle. According to an article published by the AAP, the bedtime bottle is associated with poor dental health.

Nighttime feeding vs Bedtime feeding: What is normal?

Since toddlerhood encompasses quite a wide span of time, there is no exact age for night weaning. In general and on average, bottle-fed babies stop nighttime feeding by six months of age while breastfed babies take up to a year due to the high digestibility of breastmilk.

However, night feeds are different from bedtime feeds. Night feeds are when your child wakes up in the middle of the night to feed. This behavior is typical among newborns and young babies since their tiny stomachs have to compensate for the rapid growth they undergo.

On the other hand, bedtime feeds or the bedtime bottle is making use of the feeding session (its suckling, filling, and calming properties) to soothe a child to sleep. Your toddler could very well be full after dinner and still demand a bedtime bottle not because he is hungry but rather because he needs it to fall asleep.

If you’re guilty of resorting to the bedtime bottle as a parent, don’t worry because studies show that most parents are. However, you might want to correct this habit as soon as possible because of its health implications discussed below.

Risks of bottle feeding at bedtime for toddlers

If you need some more convincing that bedtime bottles are not good for your toddler, here are a few risks associated with it:

Bottle rot

The first concern that pediatricians have with bedtime bottles is tooth decay. If you are using the bottle to put your toddler to sleep, you don’t have the chance to clean their teeth after the feed since they are already asleep.

Milk, formula, and juice all contain sugar. If your child falls asleep with sugar in his mouth, it will definitely pose dental problems soon. This may even harm their oral health as adults since baby teeth health has a direct impact on permanent teeth health.

Mom feeding her baby girl with a bottle

Decreased appetite for real food

If your toddler is full with milk, chances are he won’t be so interested in solid food. Transitioning to solid food is important for toddlers since milk is no longer enough to sustain their nutritional needs. Even if you justify that the milk is only for bedtime, chances are your toddler won’t eat his dinner because he’s anticipating a bottle of milk later on at night.

Ear infections

The ears, nose, and throat are interconnected networks. As you may have expected, chugging down a bottle of milk while lying down is not healthy for the system. Children who habitually fall asleep with a bottle are more prone to ear and throat infections.

Poor sleep habits

“But my baby sleeps just fine!” You might say. However, if he accidentally wakes up in the middle of the night, you will surely find yourself preparing a bottle to help him fall back asleep. Children eventually need to learn to soothe themselves to sleep without the aid of unhealthy habits such as bedtime bottles.

A step-by-step process of weaning from the bottle

Before you even begin, offer your child fair warning of the elimination days prior. Make sure to communicate to them that the bottles are soon going bye-bye. Make yourself clear and repeat yourself at least twice a day -one of these instances is close to bedtime when your child is calm but not sleepy.

Step 1: Introduce a cup

If you haven’t yet, introduce your little one to his very own cup. Make it a special occasion, if you can, so your child associates it to something good and exciting. If you have an older toddler, you can even involve him in choosing the color and design that he likes. Just make sure that the cup you choose is age-appropriate and practical.

This Munchkin Miracle 360 Training Cup is a crowd favorite because of its elegant and seamless design. It is spout-less and straw-less so your toddler can practice drinking like a real big kid. The 360-degree drinking edge and the automatic seal makes clean up almost unnecessary apart from when you have to wash it after use.

Step 2: Eliminate midday bottles one by one

You can start eliminating bottles in the middle of the day. Kids are so busy during these times that they usually would not notice the first missing bottle. If your child asks for their midday milk, offer it in their special cup instead.

Every three days to a week, kick off one bottle at a time, replacing them with cups until you are left with only the wake up and the bedtime bottle. If you offer milk in a cup but your child refuses it, don’t force the issue but don’t give in and offer them a bottle instead just so they would take the milk. You can offer them snacks or their meal instead.

Step 3: Get rid of the wake up bottle

When you are left with just the first and the last bottle of the day, go for getting rid of the first one instead. It is easier since there are so many more distractions available during the day compared to night time when it is quiet and when your toddler will be looking for comfort.

You don’t have to make a big deal out of it. As soon as your little one wakes up hungry, take him to the breakfast table instead. He can have his milk, if he wants it, in a cup at the table during breakfast.

Little boy sleeping in his bed

Step 4: Work on removing the bedtime bottle at last

The bedtime bottle is usually the trickiest one to boot. It will heavily depend on your toddler’s readiness. It will also depend on whether you have established healthy sleeping habits early on in their developent.

If your toddler doesn’t usually fall asleep after the bedtime bottle, you can simply switch the bottle into a cup instead and establish a routine of milk (in a cup), toothbrush, cuddles and stories, then bed. Often, all kids really need is presence and one-to-one time with the parent to comfort them at bedtime.

On the other hand, if your toddler heavily relies on the bottle to fall asleep, it can be a lot trickier for the both of you to settle in. That’s because your child has knows no other way to fall asleep apart from the bottle. However, that does not mean that you’re doomed to stick to the bedtime bottle.

You don’t have to go cold-turkey on weaning your toddler from the bedtime bottle. This might upset them too much, and nobody in the house would get any sleep at all. Do it gradually day by day, and with each day remember that you have to remind your toddler that his bottle is going bye-bye soon.

Most gentle weaning resources advise that you slowly ease into it by gradually decreasing the amount of milk in the bottle by about an ounce a day. Once you’ve hit the three-ounce mark, you can attempt to offer the milk in a cup before brushing and bed.

It would also help if you supplemented the methods with other efforts such as:

  • Getting rid of ALL your spare bottles lying around. Even toddlers who do very well with bottle elimination can get triggered by the sudden sight of a bottle just lying around, reminding them of the days when they used it as a soothing object.
  • Being creative and telling stories about where the bottles are going such as little babies in hospitals (because he’s a big kid now), or even childhood fantasy stories where the Easter bunny collects big kids’ baby bottles to turn into Easter eggs when the time comes.
  • Turn it into a celebration. Treat it like a moving up ceremony that is only especially for “big kids”.
  • Remind your child often about your plans way ahead. Even as you’ve already begun booting bottles, remind him that you’ve already talked about it days before you’ve even begun.
  • Replace the bottles with other objects or even yourself as a source of comfort. It can be a special stuffed animal, a special bedtime blanket, an extra bedtime story, or an extra ten minutes of cuddle time with mom or dad.

All in all, keep in mind that you have to pour in a lot of patience in this process. Treat it as an important milestone for your toddler, and consider it as an important move for you to safeguard your child’s health and wellbeing.

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Vanessa is a freelance writer and a two-time certified boy mom to a toddler and a preschooler. She believes that raising happy kids is a delicate balance between doing your best as a parent and seeking help when you need it.

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