Kids who have bottles before bed as part of their routine tend to be more prone to night waking, too, and will often ask for another bottle before they can drift off again—the bottle has become a sleep association
. (The bottle-guzzling tyrant in my house would wake at 3 a.m. and ask for “just a tiny milky.”) Dickinson says that step one is to swap the bedtime bottle for a sippy cup
(or, better still, a regular cup). Sippy cups tend to be lower in volume, and don’t have nipples. “Kids taking bottles at an older age aren’t drinking because they’re thirsty; they’re drinking because they like the sensation of the nipple in their mouth,” says Dickinson.
Ari Katsnelson, a family dentist in Toronto, would prefer milk wasn’t part of bedtime at all. “Decay
is a big problem,” says Katsnelson. “Baby teeth are smaller and have a smaller amount of enamel, so when the sugar in milk sits on the teeth all night and turns into acids, you can end up with serious erosion. Water is the better bet for drinking at bedtime.” (If you aren’t ready to break the bottle habit yet, be sure you’re brushing your kid’s teeth post-milk.) Katsnelson also recommends switching to a cup as soon as possible. “The longer a child has the bottle in his mouth each day, the more we worry about the effects on the teeth. Like a soother, anything a child keeps in his mouth for four to six hours a day can cause issues with bite—mainly an anterior open bite, where the front teeth don’t come together properly.” But the good news is, when the offending object—like a bottle—is removed, the teeth can sometimes self-correct. The sooner you can kick the habit, the more likely the bite will naturally fix itself.
So how can you help your little one lose the bottle? It may sound daunting, but Dickinson recommends going cold turkey. “Throw the bottles out—all of them, at one time. Kids somehow know when there’s one in the cupboard at 2 a.m., when your resolve is low. If there’s no option, they’ll adapt quicker.”
For a more gradual approach, Dickinson suggests diluting the milk a little more each night, until the bottle is all water. Some kids may lose interest when milk is removed from the equation, though this isn’t always the case.
After completing the research for this story, I decided it was time to turf our bottles once and for all. My husband and I steeled ourselves for several nights of screaming and sleeplessness, but it didn’t come to that. We replaced the bottle with a sippy cup of water one night when we were staying at my parents’ house—we explained to Juliette that there aren’t any bottles at Nonna and Poppa’s—and she bought it. She did ask for a bottle a few more times at bedtime that week, but by night seven, “tiny milky” was a thing of the past. Now, on to the pacifier
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