A: Ideally, babies will be completely off the bottle by the time they’re a year old, so it’s wise to start cutting down the number of bottle feedings beforehand. That bedtime bottle seems to be the hardest one to take away from babies, since they take it as much for comfort and relaxation as they do for nourishment. By the age of six months, many babies don’t need the bedtime bottle for nourishment, and by the age of nine months, very few need the extra calories and nutrients offered by the bedtime bottle, since they’re typically eating and drinking plenty throughout the day. So by the time babies are around nine months old, the bedtime bottle is usually optional, although most babies don’t seem to think so! The longer you keep giving that bedtime bottle, the harder it seems to do away with it, for both you and your baby.
Parents have heard over and over about the potential health consequences of the bedtime bottle, even if they don’t allow their babies to take a bottle to bed. It can promote erosion of tooth enamel and tooth decay, and it can contribute extra calories that lead to excess weight gain. Still, denying your baby a bedtime bottle can be incredibly challenging for moms and dads. It makes it far more difficult to get babies to sleep, and when babies don’t sleep, neither do their parents.
There are two ways to break the bedtime bottle habit. You can do it gradually, or you can do it cold turkey. With my youngest son, I knew how challenging weaning was going to be, since I’d already gone through it twice with my older children. I had gradually weaned my older sons from the bedtime bottle in a stepwise fashion. I started by serving the bedtime bottle chilled rather than warm, which made it much less enticing. Then I replaced the milk with water, which they liked even less. When I finally took the bedtime bottle away, they weren’t all that crazy about it anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.
When it was time to wean my youngest son, my life was so hectic that I didn’t do the gradual weaning. I decided that we would go cold turkey. To make sure that I didn’t cave, I threw away all of his bottles so there would be no turning back. The first couple of nights were a little stressful for both of us, and it took my son about an hour longer than usual to get to sleep, and I felt pretty guilty about upsetting him.
Looking back, I think it’s better to gradually wean babies from the bedtime bottle. Make sure your baby has had enough to eat and drink a couple of hours before bedtime. It’s helpful if you have established a nice bedtime ritual to comfort and soothe your baby, so that you’re not 100 percent dependent on the bottle. A nice warm bath, rocking while reading a story, and snuggling with a lovey can be great sources of comfort, security, and relaxation before bedtime, even when the bedtime bottle is no longer a part of the routine.