Should I stop giving my baby milk before bed?
Your baby probably looks forward to his bottle at bedtime. As his parent, it can be hard to take away something he holds so dear, but the bedtime bottle can cause problems as your baby gets older. Weaning your baby can cause a few nights of tears and problems getting to sleep, but as long as it is done in a loving way, there is no reason for it to cause much trauma.
Sleeping Without a Bottle
Between the ages of 6 and 9 months, your baby should be ready to get to sleep without a bottle at bedtime. By the time he is a year old, he really needs to give up the bottle. If you wait much longer the process becomes more difficult. Toddlers naturally grow very attached to a routine, so waiting until he is over a year old will make the process more challenging for both of you.
You may wonder why it is so important to wean your child from his bottle at bedtime. There are actually a variety of reasons why using a bottle to go to sleep is not a great idea for you and your baby. Using the bottle creates a crutch in the bedtime routine. He will have to give it up eventually, and prolonging the process only allows him to grow more attached.
If you continue to allow the bottle at bedtime after the age where he needs it for nourishment, you may soon find that your baby cannot fall asleep without a bottle in his mouth.
This Habit Is Bad for Your Baby’s Teeth
The most practical reason why you need to get your baby off of the bottle is that sucking on a bottle before he goes to sleep is not good for his newly emerging teeth.
Milk contains sugars that will stick to the teeth overnight, creating a breeding ground for the bacteria that can cause tooth decay. While milk is bad, giving your baby juice before bed is even worse.
The first step in weaning your baby is to let him get used to using a cup. Many babies really enjoy the opportunity to try drinking from a cup, even if it is a messy process to start with. Once you are ready to start eliminating bottles, it makes sense to start with the bottle he is least attached to, and that probably will not be his nighttime bottle.
Start With Daytime Changes
Once he is using a cup for his daytime drinking, you are ready to eliminate the bottle at bedtime. If he is a relatively good eater, you will probably find he does not even need the extra milk at bedtime. Simply reduce the amount of milk you give him in his nighttime bottle a little each night. Once he is drinking just a few ounces, offer him water rather than milk in the cup.
You will probably find it easiest to get all the bottles out of the house. This keeps you from offering them up if either of you is experiencing a weak moment. As long as he eats reasonably well and has been introduced to the cup, he doesn’t need a bottle.
A bottle at bedtime does provide a sense of comfort, so you can introduce another form of comfort, such as a stuffed animal early in the transitioning period. This allows him to get used to using it as his soother and he won’t see it as a replacement.
Why Worry About Decay?
You may think, baby teeth are temporary, why worry if they develop a little decay? Actually, decay in baby teeth can create huge issues. Because of the smaller size of the baby teeth, they have less enamel. The decay may be quickened if your baby bottle is not sterilized.
This makes them much more susceptible to decay than permanent teeth. Decay in baby teeth needs to be treated, even though the teeth are only temporary. Otherwise, your child will experience dental pain and even early tooth loss.
Are There Other Problems With a Bottle at Bedtime?
Prolonged sucking on a bottle can cause problems with your child’s dental development. The longer your baby keeps the bottle in his mouth, the more likely it is to affect his bite. If your baby is only using a bottle for milk a few times a day, it is not likely to cause problems. If he uses it for soothing, and holds it in his mouth for longer periods of time or falls asleep with it in his mouth, he is likely to develop dental issues.
While that can be scary, it is important to note that switching to a cup can allow the teeth to self-correct. Switching over from a bottle as soon as possible minimizes the odds of your child developing issues from sucking on a bottle.
Another issue that can develop from your child having a bottle at bedtime are issues with his diet. If he is a good eater but insists on a nighttime milk bottle, he may gain more weight than is healthy.
On the opposite side of the issue, if your child is a picky eater, he may refrain from trying new foods (such as solids) or eating foods that aren’t his favorite because he knows he will get a milk bottle at bedtime. Toddlers only need about 2 cups of milk a day, the rest of their diet should be made up of healthy foods.
Ways to Make the Bottle at Bedtime Less Attractive
If your child is very attached to his bottle, there are some ways you can make it less enticing.
- Water down the milk
- Serve the milk chilled, rather than warm
- Let her choose a cup she likes
- Let her help you get her bedtime drink of water as part of her nighttime routine
- Change the bedtime routine to include brushing teeth, snuggling, and cuddling a comfort object rather than taking a bottle to bed