getting your baby to stop using a bottle: toddler drinking out of a bottle

At Good Night Baby we look at sleep in a holistic manner. What does that mean? We do not look at sleep in isolation, we consider all the building blocks of sleep – one being nutrition. And that refers not only to the food and milk intake, but also the method of intake.

One of the recommendations we make to parents is to remove night feeds once your toddler is old enough to stretch through the night. After the age of 1 year, night feeds are not nutritionally needed anymore – at this stage your toddler should be on a balanced diet during the day to get enough calories to stretch them through the night.

Also, from 12 months the bottle can become a security or comfort association if used for soothing when it’s time to fall asleep. This creates a negative sleep association – your toddler forms an attachment to the sucking and it becomes difficult to get them to stop drinking from the bottle. This doesn’t mean you have to stop offering milk; the recommendation is to move away from the bottle to another way of drinking milk like sippy or straw cups, or even normal cups.

Why your child shouldn’t use a bottle for too long 

  • Your toddler uses it as emotional comfort and will wake up frequently, not because of hunger but rather due to the comfort of drinking from the bottle.
  • Tooth decay. If your toddler spends most of the day and night with a bottle in their mouth, they are prone to develop tooth decay. This is not something noticed immediately and might only present as a cavity later.

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  • It can disrupt the position of permanent teeth.
  • Having a bottle in the mouth often can impact speech development because they are not practicing saying words enough.
  • Drinking while lying down can cause fluid to pool at the back of the mouth. This fluid may travel through the tube that connects the throat to the middle ear and cause ear infections.
  • Excessive milk may lead to nutrient deficiencies because children will fill up with milk and then not eat properly.
  • Prolonged bottle use by older children where the bottle hangs from their mouths can lead to a lisp in speech due to the tongue being pushed to a forward position the whole time.
  • Research shows that children who are still using the bottle at the age of 2 are more likely to be overweight by the time they are 6 years old.

bottle weaning: a toddler using a sippy cup

How to get your baby to stop using a bottle

There are two methods one can try, keep in mind it may not be an easy task.

  • Gradual Transition: replace the morning/afternoon bottle with another cup first. Then the next one and lastly the bedtime bottle. Alternatively offer water in the bottle and milk in another cup, gradually reducing the water bottles until he/she drinks milk and water from a cup. The last option with the gradual transition is to either dilute the milk with water until there is only water left (remember to still offer milk in another cup) or simply reduce the amount of milk per bottle and offer the rest in a cup.
  • You blink and it is gone: this is the cold turkey method and usually the more effective way of doing it. Remember to involve your toddler in this process – let your toddler put all their bottles in a box and put some stamps on. Tell them that you are going to mail it to the babies who still drink out of a bottle. Tell them they are old enough now to drink out of a sippy cup or a cup with a straw and get them a fun-coloured cup or one with their favourite cartoon character on it. Make a big deal out of this milestone. And make sure that the bottles are gone. Out of sight, out of mind!

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What can you replace your baby’s bottle with? 

There is no one size fits all, but at least there are different options:

  • Sippy cup: a cup with a lid and spout
  • Straw cup
  • 360° cup: allows drinking from any side
  • Normal open cup

Tips & tricks to get your baby to stop using a bottle

  • It is okay if your toddler does not adjust to the new item at first. Keep on offering it.
  • If your toddler is still protesting despite your persistent efforts, try a different cup.
  • Prepare yourself for lots (and lots!) of spills.
  • Make a big deal out of it – give a lot of praise and fuss.
  • Children love to imitate, so show them how you do it.
  • Have colourful cups or ones with their favourite characters on it.
  • If your toddler does not drink the water at first try do dilute it with some toddler juice or flavoured rooibos tea to get them interested. It is important to move back to water if they are used to the new cup (keep in mind timing when adding juice or tea – the sugar will impact sleep).

The best idea is to try and introduce a transition or sippy cup at a young age (6 to 9 months). Offer small quantities of water in the cup. Let them master the new skill before you take away the bottle.

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The most important thing to do is to remain consistent, no matter how you choose to remove the bottle. To let your toddler cry for the bottle just to give it to them a few days later will teach them that if they cry enough, they’ll get what they want. The best thing you can do for your toddler is to push through; children learn quickly and you will be amazed at how soon your little one will adapt to the new way of drinking milk.

As BabyYumYum’s exclusive sleep experts, Good Night specialises in all things sleep when it comes to babies and young children. Their sleep consultants are trained professionals who undergo strict screening and education processes. They believe in creating a start-to-finish solution for families. Good Night is associated with international associations and accredited by the South African Sleep Association.