Has it become routine or even necessary to bottle feed your baby throughout the night, each time they wake up? If your child is unable to fall back asleep without the comfort of a nighttime bottle, you may find yourself concerned about the repercussions and in need of help to wean them of the habit.
It’s very common to feel anxious and overwhelmed while helping your baby give up their bedtime bottle. This milestone may feel big and emotional —like they are growing up and moving away from babyhood. It may also feel like a fight waiting to happen if your baby loves that bottle. However, moving away from bottle feeding at around age 1 will ultimately be best for your baby’s health and well-being.
When a child relies on a bottle to fall asleep each night, they will naturally feel that they need it each time they wake up. This can lead to a dependency that will keep both of you up all night. Not only will it disrupt your family’s sleep, but bottle use after 18 months of age can also have adverse effects on your toddler’s health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends bottle weaning preferably by 12 months, and absolutely by 18 months of age. According to many children’s health organizations, including WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), prolonged bottle use is associated with dental cavities, ear infections, iron-deficiency, and childhood weight issues and obesity.
You may have heard that long-term bottle use can boost tooth decay. The reason for this is that milk contains sugar in the form of lactose, allowing more bacteria to grow. In this way, juice, with its high sugar content, can be even worse. Frequent sucking may also cause your child’s jaw to become misaligned and for teeth to grow in at an angle, causing dental and orthodontic issues throughout their life.
Babies who bottle-feed lying down, as is often the case with nighttime feeds, also tend to get more ear infections. The act of sucking while lying flat can obstruct the eustachian tubes in your child’s ears.
You should be able to start introducing your baby to a cup from around six months of age. Some indicators that your child is ready to start the switch include:
If you’re worried about your little one and messes, sippy cups are always safe, or you can try two-handled non-sippy cups, which are great for helping small hands develop increased muscle control.
Beginning with lunchtime, start offering your child a cup during the day. If you begin offering your child milk or water at meals in a cup instead of a bottle, they will start to get used to it. Taking away the midday bottle first will work best. Let your child get used to eating solid foods in the morning before taking away the breakfast bottle.
You can try decreasing the amount of milk in your child’s bottle each night. Allow bedtime bottles to get gradually smaller, decreasing dependency. Alternatively, you can try increasingly watering down your baby’s milk, eventually giving your child bottles of water at nighttime, before you give up the bottles for good.
If your baby is using the bottle to fall asleep at night, chances are your child does not need that bottle nutritionally. It’s simply a comforting habit. Consider replacing the bottle with other comforting bedtime habits.
Give your child a cup of milk with dinner every night. Follow up with a warm bath and a teeth brushing session (even little ones without teeth benefit from a soft brush of their gums to establish a healthy dental hygiene routine). If your child loves to snuggle, consider making a habit of a relaxing snuggle session before lights out. Read a book. Sing a song. Play soft music.
Getting rid of your baby’s nighttime bottle may not be easy for your child, or for you. Just remember that it will get better. Once you’ve made the decision to pull the bottle away, though, you will need to commit – don’t go back! Stay strong, and keep in mind that you are doing what’s best for your baby’s teeth, ears, and overall health. Your whole family’s sleep will improve once the habit is broken.
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