You’ve reached that point when you know your toddler doesn’t need a bottle anymore: you’ve heard paediatricians recommend children switch from a bottle to a sippy cup around age one; your dentist has told you it’s a bad idea for her teeth if she falls asleep with it; you know it’s probably the only reason she’s still waking up at night; and your mother-in-law is on your case about it.
Whatever your reason, you want to quit bottle feeding in the night but you can’t imagine how your child ever going to manage (or sleep through the night) without it.
One strategy that works well for a lot of kids is to package up all the bottles and “send them to a new baby” (you can secretly keep them in storage if you need). If you know a new baby your child can visit, even better.
Prepare for this by talking to your child ahead of time about how he’s so big now that he doesn’t need a bottle anymore and that it’s time to pass them on to “a new little baby who really needs them.”
He can still have his milk before brushing his teeth, but he should have it in a cup. You can warm it up and call it “special coffee” or something fun. And, more preparation: tell him no more milk until the sun comes up.
Now for the hard part: what to do when your child cries out in the night for it? This is one of those unavoidable tough-love parenting moments.
First, you wait a few minutes to see if she will drift back to sleep on her own when she isn’t met with the instant gratification of Mom or Dad sleepily handing over a bottle full of warm milk. If she is not taking this change lying down (pardon the pun), then it’s all about your poker face: go in her room and calmly, quietly remind your little one that there is no more milk until the sun comes up, give her a little rub on the back for comfort and then leave again.
If your child is old enough to be in a big-kid bed and is coming to you with the milk request, then you have to lead her back quietly and matter-of-factly with very little interaction, tuck her in and do the same remind-and-leave routine as above.
You may have to repeat this a lot on the first few nights, so be patient; best to start on a weekend when you can trade naps with your spouse the next day.
It might seem like a losing battle the first night or two, but if you are absolutely clear and consistent with your child, your night-shift work will pay off in spades and full nights’ sleeps for everyone are just around the corner.