Maggie is a psychologist and mom of five kids who successfully weaned her children from their bottles.
Weaning Your Child off the Milk Bottle
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 often 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.
A Humane Approach
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 for allowing your child to doze off while continuing to nurse on the bottle for a prolonged period.)
Three of my youngest children took quite a while to let go of their "nighttime 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 playdates or sleepovers. 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.
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 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.
Read More From Wehavekids
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 their nighttime milk bottle. Do this also when your child finally lets go of their nighttime 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.
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!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Lisa Musser from Kansa, USA on September 16, 2014:
I liked how you gradually replaced the daytime milk bottles with cups, rather than just taking the bottles altogether. Much better for the child and no long tearful pleas for bottles at bedtime.
Jodie Fisher on January 02, 2014:
Thanks for this. My 11month old still has about three bottles of formula a day and has 7oz at bedtime (falls asleep with bottle then dummy) then wakes twice in the night and has a couple of ounces each time. Not sure how to break the habit :(