Are there any parents who don’t have fond memories of rocking their baby to sleep after a nighttime bottle? It’s a precious time: quiet and relaxed, after a full day. Baby needs sleep, and mom or dad may be looking for some respite, too. After months of finding a routine, change strikes again. What most parents come to learn from the very beginning is that change is inevitable. Every month is a milestone, and by six months, it’s time for a biggie: getting the baby to sleep without a bottle.
Reasons Why You Might Want to Stop Giving Her a Bottle at Bedtime
Let’s say you’ve established the routine of getting your baby settled for the night. And by extension you’ve created a nice, comfortable routine for yourself. But by six months of age your baby is ready to sleep through the night without any feedings.
And for good reason: the American Academy of Pediatricians warns that evening bottle use will promote tooth decay. The last thing we want to do as parents is create a situation where the child’s burgeoning little teeth are left swimming in milk for hours during the night.
Additionally, the use of the nighttime feeding as a sleep crutch does little to promote good sleeping habits or help your baby learn to settle herself after waking. What can happen as your child gets older is that she just won’t go to sleep without a bottle, not in the car, not in the crib or the swing or in the front pack. For bedtime at night AND for naps.
Setting your baby on the track to sleep without a bottle at night is one of the first steps in promoting sleep habits that will benefit your child into the toddler years and beyond.
When your baby is ready for a night of sleep without that late-night feeding, it’s often mom and dad that are the last to change. Who can blame them? Those first six months are a time of excitement and exhaustion. By the time baby has settled into a sleep pattern, it’s understandable that a parent wouldn’t dare rock that boat. Unfortunately, the paradigm of parenting plays out and the routine that suits the parents isn’t always best for baby.
Stopping the nighttime bottle is the first step to initiating positive routines that will encourage better sleep patterns for their child.
Bedtime Routine vs. Bad Habits: It is time to take control and decide for yourself what bedtime will look like.
What’s in a routine? In short, it’s a set of habits, either good or bad. The nighttime bottle—and using it to get baby to sleep—was once a routine, positive for both baby and parent. It represented a ritual to calm baby and get her to settle in for the evening. It was also a time of day when baby and parent could connect free of distractions to enjoy one another. But now that baby is getting older (I know—each stage goes way too fast!) it’s time for those routines to evolve. Change is certain as a child grows. Accepting change in baby’s life and finding a way to make it an enjoyable experience is a parent’s greatest challenge.
Baby is keenly aware of her world. The routines instituted now will more than supplant the nighttime feeding; they are providing structure. For baby, a structured routine is part of the security once found through late night feedings. Instead of the bottle, new routines provide baby with the nurturing and sense of security they crave.
Even if this is your first child, you have probably already learned that your baby thrives on routine, when things that happen are the same every day, even in the same order.
See also, What is a Good Bedtime Routine?
The first step help a baby who relies on a bottle to sleep is to create a replacement that she can rely upon to go to sleep. There is no one way to do this, even though you might talk to parents who will give you advice like their way is the ONLY way.
Regardless of all the opinions, I think we can all agree that it is best to turn the getting ready for bedtime activities into something special that everyone looks forward to. No matter what happens, this should be a relaxing time, filled with positive reinforcement and soft voices, a time for parents and baby to bond and unwind from daily stresses.
There are definitely lots of way to get ready for bed, but here are the steps we recommend to help get a baby to sleep without a bottle.
Step One: Talk to her why there will be no bottle at bedtime.
Babies understand a lot of our language and words, well before they can make it obvious to us that they understand. If you are planning on quitting the bottle at bedtime, the first step is to talk to her about it. Yes, I know it will feel silly talking to a tiny baby who cannot use any words to respond to you. But this is absolutely the first step towards quitting the bottle. She will understand more than you think.
Step Two: Give her a bottle before bed, but well before the bedtime routine starts.
Let her have her normal milk or formula, but not in a way that will make her sleepy. Talk to her about drinking all that she can drink or wants to drink, and make a big show of putting the bottle away, perhaps in the fridge, sink, or dishwasher. Let her help even. This way, she knows where the bottle is and if she asks for it later, you can tell her exactly where it is. This way you won’t worry about her being hungry.
Step Three: Start the bedtime routine with a nice warm bath.
Who doesn’t love a good soak at the end of the day? It’s the perfect way to get baby fully relaxed. It’s the first step in replacing the nighttime feeding and getting her to find her own sleep pattern. Parents may feel guilty not holding baby until she is asleep, and that’s totally natural. Don’t. It’s much easier said than done, and we’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another.
The warm of the bath and the stimulating playtime will help her feel ready to get into warm fuzzy clothes and to cuddle up. While you are in the bathroom, you can also add teeth brushing to the routine, or any other grooming habits that you want to teach.
Step Four: Walk her around the house and say goodnight to everyone. You can even say goodnight to the bottle.
Like I said earlier, bedtime is an event! A positive, happy one. Everyone gets to love on her at bedtime, remind her that they care about her, and will see her in the morning when she wakes up. She might reach for the bottle or cry for it, but you have her in your arms and you can comfort her. Tell the bottle “night night” and don’t cave to her complaints. You as the parent are entitled to make changes to her routine, and she as the child is entitled to complain about it or have feelings about it.
Acknowledge her feelings, and say things like “I hear you, you are asking for your bottle. It’s down in the fridge, and we’ll have milk in the morning. Tell me all about it sweetheart.”
Step Five: Go to the sleeping space and do not go out of the room to play or do other activities.
Have a light on, but if you have a lamp that you can turn down instead of using the bright overhead light, use it. This is a good time to practice getting into bed, getting everything just so, and cuddling up with a person she loves. If she is in the crib, sit with her on the bed nearby or in a chair to get those important cuddles. Pick out a few books and read to her, tell stories, or sing to her. Keep your voice calm and soothing. Feel free to rock her if you like. NO screens!
Some of the best memories are made at bedtime. Story time is that one aspect of the new bedtime routine that is more than a distraction from the late-night bottle. It brings parent and baby closer. Who doesn’t remember story time from their own childhood? Look back at your own memories. What made those stories so great? It was the company: the warm voice lulling you to sleep, the story and its imagery, and the time close together.
Story time is an experience that hits all the emotional and imaginative buttons. It’s as personal an experience for baby as was the late-night bottle. And it’s now your voice that is helping to get baby to sleep without a bottle. We’re all storytellers at heart. Every story has its own humble beginnings, just like baby looking up at you, following your voice, and finding comfort in your presence. Just try to keep the stories calm and positive, otherwise you might end up with a child who is afraid to go to sleep.
People might argue that rocking her to sleep isn’t any better than giving her a bottle to sleep. I would tell you to just do your best, and to do whatever you can to help her stay calm. You are making a pretty big change in her life. She has been using a bottle to help her feel calm and secure enough to go to sleep, and taking that away will definitely cause her to need to adjust.
If rocking her a little helps you get there, do it with the knowledge that eventually you’ll have to deal with rocking as a sleeping crutch. Perhaps a good compromise is to rock her until she is relaxed but not all the way to sleep, and then transfer her to the place where she is to sleep.
Step Six: Respond Calmly to Requests for the Bottle
At some point, your baby is going to demand the bottle that she is used to having. In this case, you should be prepared to accept her complaints calmly, and with love. She has a right to complain about the bottle! She might cry, and it might be a lot of crying. If you stick to your guns, if you love on her and remind her that she is safe and comfortable and that you are with her, she’ll eventually get to a place where she can fall asleep.
Will it happen the first night? Or right away? Probably not. But just remember–crying doesn’t mean that you have done something harmful to her. Babies have feelings like we do, and she is expressing hers. If you are consistent and persistent about the bottle at bedtime, she’ll transition within a few nights.
If you don’t stick to your guns and cave in and give it to her…well, it will probably take her longer to transition away from using a bottle to go to sleep.
No one likes change: Baby is going to tell you that she misses the bottle, and you need to be prepared to accept her feelings.
No mom, dad, or baby. It’s never easy. And every baby is different. Only you will know what works for your little one. As you find ways to get your baby to fall asleep without a bottle, keep these points in mind:
- If she falls asleep in your arms without the bottle, place the baby in her crib and gently wake her. Let her lightly stir but talk to her and let her hear you. Pat her on the back or rub it. Once she knows she’s safe in the crib, she’ll learn to soothe herself when she wakes.
- Try to figure out if it is the milk in her belly or the rubber in her mouth that soothes her. You can always try switching her from a bottle to a pacifier.
- If things aren’t going well, try switching from milk to water as a step towards weaning off the bottle at bedtime.
- Sleep regressions are the worst time to try and make changes to the sleep routine.
- Establish a routine and follow it! Routines turn into good sleep habits. And your nighttime routine will also turn into other good habits, like evening toothbrushing, reading, and falling to sleep without any aids, like television. Most importantly, a steady routine in the evening is the security blanket that makes bedtime a special time of day for you and baby.
- Sleep struggles are common with newborns. If you are trying to sleep train a really young child, you may find it hard because their sleep is constantly changing as their brains rapidly develop.
- When all else fails, ask for help! Your pediatrician will definitely have some ideas for how you can best help your baby to transition.
Getting baby to sleep without a bottle will be an adjustment. But you’ve been there from the first time you looked down at her in your arms. Finding your routine will do more than develop positive habits and make for good sleepers. It will bring you and baby closer, making the memories that sweet dreams are made of.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer when the kids are sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.