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Why stopping bottles of milk overnight can be a good idea

It’s easy to get into parenting habits which work in the short term but aren’t really sustainable.   Bottles of milk overnight are one example of being a solution to the problem of toddlers who don’t eat well and aren’t interested in mealtimes. Bottles can also be a quick fix overnight when a toddler is waking hungry and thirsty.

But there comes a time in every toddler’s life when it’s time to say bye-bye to bottles and embrace the next step – drinking milk from a cup. 

My toddler loves their bottle, why is this a problem?

Bottles of milk aren’t often a problem, unless they start to displace a child’s appetite for real food. However, one or two bottles a day (and night) can quickly become more.  

·         Milk is a liquid food and can fill up a toddler’s stomach to the point where they don’t want to eat.

·         Cow’s milk is low in iron and a high intake can lead to anaemia. Toddlers who drink a lot of milk don’t tend to eat well and this can cause them to wake at night. 

·         Toddler formula is high in kilojoules and impacts on a growing toddler’s appetite.

·         Toddlers need food which will support their growth and development, especially foods rich in protein, iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn).

·         Milk in bottles leads to bottle caries (decay) because it contains lactose - a form of sugar. When milk pools around the teeth it can cause decay, especially in the upper front incisors. Bottle caries is a condition which is avoidable.

·         Delays in speech and language. Toddlers who suck on bottles during the day and night can have problems with their oral skills because they don’t get the opportunity to use their mouth and tongue as they need to.  

How to stop your toddler’s bottles of milk

·         Try to stop bottles of milk from around your child’s first birthday.

·         Offer milk and water from sippy or straw cups. See which type your child prefers.

·         Give them a drink of milk after their main meals.

·         Offer dairy foods like yoghurt, cheese and milky desserts at mealtimes and as snacks.

·         Expect some spilling and mess as they learn to drink from a cup. Most toddlers need lots of practice when they’re learning how to drink. 

10 top tips when stopping bottles of milk

1.       Pick a time in the household when there’s not a lot going on. It’s important to keep the mood calm and minimise stress.

2.       You can (either) slowly reduce the number of bottles your toddler is having each day and night, or stop them all at once.   

3.       Gather up all the bottles in the house and hide them or throw them away. Removing the visual prompt will help your toddler to forget about their bottles more quickly.

4.       Tell them gently but clearly the bottles “have all gone”. Avoid long winded explanations about how and why.  This will help your toddler get the message that bottles aren’t available anymore.

5.       Give your toddler lots of cuddles and reassurance and help them to find other ways of comforting.  A soft toy can often help with soothing.

6.       Get everyone in the household on board with the plan. Toddlers thrive on consistency and receiving the same message from everyone.

7.       Offer your toddler a range of textured, nutritious foods which will encourage them to chew.

8.       Monitor the number of wet nappies your toddler is having. Around six or more in 24 hours is a sign of hydration.   

9.       Try to use one type of cup for milk and another for water.

10.   Offer water from a sippy cup overnight if your toddler wakes.  Expect some protests and upset as they get used to not having bottles of milk. Be patient and kind, they will learn if you are consistent and persistent.

Written for Milton by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse - April 2022