Babies & ToddlersKidsPre-School

Is your child using the bottle as a sleep crutch?

If your child can’t fall asleep – or stay asleep – without his or her bottle it might be time to begin bottle weaning.

It’s time for bed, and your toddler snuggles down, holding his bedtime bottle. He takes a deep suck as his eyes begin to droop. He soon falls asleep, clutching his bottle fiercely under his arm and drooling milk from the corner of his relaxed mouth. However, if you attempt to remove the bottle, those closed eyes open in a flash.

How can you ensure your child sleeps without his bottle?

Saying goodbye to the bottle is hard, especially when it comes to naps, bedtime, or re-settling your child overnight. If you notice that your toddler is asking for the bottle when they are upset or tired, then the bottle may have also become a comfort item in addition to their sleep crutch.

Good reasons to stop the bottle

Between the ages of six and nine months, the bedtime bottle moves from being a necessity to a comfort says The American Academy of Pediatrics. And while you may think this is a harmless comfort and part of your bedtime routine, the experts reveal that the opposite is true.

Firstly, the longer you offer this bottle at bedtime, the more your toddler becomes attached – he soon won’t be able to fall asleep without it.

Secondly, once your baby’s teeth start to come through, falling asleep with a bottle can lead to tooth issues later on. The milk tends to pool in your baby’s mouth while he is sleeping and the natural sugars will target your baby’s new teeth.

Health implications of prolonged bottle-feeding

Research shows that toddlers who continue to bottle feed past 15 months take in more than the recommended amount of milk required on a daily basis, which can increase your child’s risk of obesity, constipation, and iron deficiency. In fact, the recommended intake for toddlers aged two to three is two cups, or around 500ml, of milk per day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics further recommends that you should ideally aim to wean your baby off his night-time bottle by 12 months.

How to ditch the bottle 

Here are a few “gentle” ways you can ease your child off the bottle.

Change up your toddler’s nighttime routine

This may seem counterproductive − especially as you have just gotten him into a good sleep routine, but this will be of benefit in the long run. Firstly, start by introducing a sippy cup with a smaller amount of milk and offer this to your toddler after his dinner. This can be followed by brushing of teeth and a bedtime ritual, like reading a story.

Let him drink from a cup

If he is slightly older, have him help choose his new cup. Alternatively, have two cups on offer and let him choose which one he would prefer to have that night.

Give him a comfort item

Offer another comfort object, like a favourite stuffed toy or soft blanket at bedtime instead of his bottle.

Provide loads of encouragement

Your toddler may find this to be a traumatic time as he identifies his bottle with being able to fall asleep. Words of encouragement and praise and lauding him being a “big boy” will be helpful.

Fake it

Watering down his milk over several nights may encourage him to decide that nighttime drink isn’t as desirable as he thought. This can be done in conjunction with introducing the sippy cup.

Choose your fights

If your toddler is going through a stressful time, like getting to know a new caregiver, starting daycare or school, or any other major changes it’s probably not the best time to wean.

A word on picky eaters

Your toddler’s milk intake could affect his eating habits, as toddlers can be picky creatures when it comes to eating. Removing this bottle can help. As long as he is reaching his growth milestones, he will be fine.  

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