Q: My one-year-old will not go to sleep without a bottle at bedtime and when he wakes crying two or three times a night, it’s the only thing that will get him back to sleep. What can I do?
A: If anyone thinks parenting is easy, they should try weaning a baby — and parents — from a comforting bottle at bedtime. However, there are important health reasons for taking away that bottle by your baby’s first birthday. Drinking from a bottle promotes tooth decay, which can get in the way of good nutrition and even lead to serious oral infections. It can also prevent your son from getting the nutrition he needs from solid foods.
The best approach is to go slow. Begin by offering only water in the bottle during the day (small amounts of milk can be given in a sippy cup after meals, to a maximum of 20 to 24 ounces/590 to 700 mL a day). Gradually decrease the milk content of his night bottle by diluting it with water, then offer smaller and smaller quantities. At the same time, try to introduce a blanket or cuddly toy he can use to self-soothe.
For the final step, pick a long weekend when you have the time and extra help you need. At bedtime, give him his milk, followed by water from a sippy cup (brush his teeth afterward!) and put him down in his crib. I suggest you let him fuss for 15 minutes before you go into his room to soothe him. Since he’s been accustomed to middle-of-the-night bottles, you may need to offer him some water to help him settle. It will be difficult, but if you and all of his caretakers are consistent, his demand for nighttime milk will lessen over a few nights. Saying no for health reasons, and keeping to your word, is great practice for the next 20 years of parenting.