How to Successfully Wean Your Baby or Toddler Off Nighttime Milk Bottles
Those Precious Milk Bottles
A Humane Approach
It is common advice to stop your baby's milk bottle suddenly, at the age of one. At least, that is what many pediatricians and well-meaning friends and family advise. This is also the commonly-held view espoused in many parenting books.
The problem is that taking away the baby's bottle all at once is cruel and unnecessary. Babies and toddlers learn how to soothe themselves by sucking on their bottles, and this is a good thing. Many moms report that once they took the bottle away, their child never drank milk again.
However, do not be in a big hurry to rid your home of milk bottles. There is no evidence that they increase dental or other problems. In fact, allowing your young one to self-soothe has many long-term benefits. (Please note that I am not advocating allowing your child to doze off while continuing to nurse on the bottle for prolonged period.)
Three of my youngest children took quite a while to let go of their "night time friend." I am happy to report that despite the slowness of this process, none of them ever wanted to bring their bottle to school or on play dates or sleepovers, and they have excellent dental records with zero cavities and no orthodontic work! They also have no "oral fixations" - one doesn't think much at all about food and drink; one likes to eat and the last one is in the middle of the other two.
How I Successfully Weaned My Children From Their Bottles
1. Beginning at the age of one, do not take the bottle away but do begin to decrease the number of daily bottles. For example, each month drop one of the daytime bottles (e.g., the mid-morning one).
Most toddlers (I am defining toddler as age 1) will not really notice or care too much about this, especially if they are busy doing an interesting activity, or if they are having a snack.
Provide a sippy cup of water, juice or milk in place of daytime bottles. A small cup I really like is the two-handled NUK Winnie the Pooh 5 ounce cup that is sold in stores and on Amazon.com (see the link above, to the right).
Continue this for a couple of months, then drop a second bottle (e.g., the afternoon bottle). Follow the same technique above: Give a sippy cup, distract with activities and snacks, etc. Be prepared: This entire stage could go on for 3-4 months.
At this time also, you should be increasing the amount of milk that your toddler drinks each day, via regular cups, milk boxes or sippy cups. Be sure to add a nice container of milk just before bedtime.
Introduce the Idea of "Wait for Sleep to Come"
2. When your toddler is down to having only his or her nighttime bottle, slowly decrease the amount of the milk in the bottle each night. Decrease the amount very slowly; for example approximately an ounce per night, for a week or so. Continue decreasing the amount of milk in this manner. Begin keeping a sippy cup of water or a dixie cup of water next to your toddler's bed. If your toddler has trouble falling asleep, tell him or her to "wait for sleep to come." My then two-year-old daughter discovered the concept of closing her eyes and waiting for sleep, and she has passed on this simple but remarkable (and true) phrase, "wait for sleep to come," to her other siblings!
Night Time Demands
3) Gentle Reminders: If your toddler wakes up at night and demands a bottle, gently tell him or her that there are no middle of the night bottles. Offer to lie down with him or her, and offer a sip of water from the cup. This step could take a few months, but it may work faster than that.
Bedtime Routines Help Kids Sleep
4) Make sure to establish soothing night routines to ease your child into sleep more quickly: A pre-sleep snack, a dimly-lighted room, some calming music and of course a bedtime story with a cuddly stuffed animal are all ways to encourage drowsiness. Don't forget to keep the small glass of water next to the bed!
5) Reward your child for a job well done! It is a good idea to reward your toddler along the way with a small treat, privilege or other goody for decreasing his or her night time milk bottle. Do this also when your child finally lets go of his or her night time water bottle, if those have been necessary. Children are just like adults in that they respond well to this type of positive reinforcement.
If You Need Additional Help
6) Here is a great read that can assist you at bedtime: In her excellent book, "The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night," author Elizabeth Pantly explains how to humanely get your young one to end his or her reliance on the milk bottle. (The information in Pantly's book is wonderful, regardless of your child's age - the techniques still work.) This book helped my family, with all kinds of sleep issues. I have provided a link to this marvelous publication, immediately to the right.
A Final Note on the Importance of Patience
Please have patience: Children do not remain attached to their bottles for very long (in the long run). Your child may have some trouble letting go of the bottle, but in the end they will recall with happiness their bottle-drinking days!