This week’s question comes from Jessica. “My 11-month-old has a nightly bottle habit. She goes to bed with a bottle and wakes for a bottle in the night. How do I break her of this bottle feeding to sleep habit?”
Good question, Jessica! First of all, I want to let you know that you are not alone. This is one of the most common issues that I see when I work with parents to teach their baby how to establish healthy sleep habits. Up to this point, this is the only strategy that has worked to get your baby to sleep. If your baby isn’t bottle feeding to sleep, then she’ll likely cry the moment you place them into the crib, right? And I don’t know a single mom who wants to let her baby cry to sleep.
So what’s the solution? How can you break the bottle feeding to sleep habit that your baby uses to get to sleep without the crying?
Why you should break the Bottle Feeding to Sleep Habit
When you put your baby in bed at night, it’s fine to include the bottle in her routine since she is under a year old. Babies under one year of age do need that one last top off feed for the night to ensure that their tummies are nice and full to be able to make it through the night. After 12 months of age, I recommend beginning the transition to the sippy cup. Here’s a great article by Mom Loves Best that walks through just how to do that.
But what you really want to avoid is giving her the bottle until she falls asleep or putting her in her crib with the bottle. You do not want your baby to fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth because if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she thinks she needs that bottle again to sleep. If you come with her bottle and feed her to sleep or put it into the crib, then she sucks herself back to sleep with the bottle. And this process of waking up and feeding back to sleep can repeat itself multiple times throughout the night.
the Bottle has become your baby’s sleep prop
What’s happening is that your baby has come to rely on the bottle as a “sleep prop” in order to get to sleep. And the problem with that is that we all go through multiple sleep cycles when we sleep. And when we come out of one sleep cycle and go into the next, everyone comes to the surface of sleep. As adults, we’ve had plenty of practice and know how to get ourselves back to sleep without really even knowing that we’ve had those brief wakings.
But when a baby relies on the bottle to get to sleep, when she comes to those brief wakings, she’s going to more fully start to wake up and realize that she didn’t’ have what she fell asleep with. The bottle is no longer in her mouth. And she’s going to begin to cry for you to come and put the bottle back in her mouth. Because this is the only strategy that she’s known up until this point. She needs the bottle in order to fall asleep. So by breaking this old way of sleeping, and starting to introduce new, healthy independent sleep skills, that’s how we’re going to get to her fall asleep a lot more peacefully and begin to sleep all the way through the night!
Not only is that hard for her sleep strategies, it is also very damaging to her teeth coming in. So, what you can do is start the bottle a little earlier in your routine.
How to Break the Bottle Feeding to Sleep Habit
The first step to breaking the bottle feeding to sleep habit is changing the bedtime routine. You could start with a bath, and then pajamas and then her bottle and a story or two. The key is that you should be putting her into the crib awake and without a bottle. So we want to be adding a couple of activities after the bottle to make sure she’s wide awake before going into her crib.
Wide awake? Sounds a little scary right? What do I do if she cries?
Gentle Sleep Training
Don’t worry, if you follow the guidelines from Live Love Sleep, I will give you some strategies to deal with the two weeks that it will probably take to get her on track, and learn this new strategy for getting herself to sleep.
You don’t have to leave the room; you can stay with her if you like. But she really does need to start connecting the steps that are involved in putting herself to sleep independently so that she is not relying on that bottle! Read more about our Sleep Philosophy here.
Otherwise, she will most likely keep waking for that bottle. It could go on well into the second year so you really want to make sure you break this habit now. Then when she wakes in the night requesting a bottle, you’ll have to just decline that request.
You can go in, you can stay with her and be present and comforting as she learns how to fall asleep independently. She will learn a new way to fall asleep and she will start sleeping a solid night, which will be better for her. It may take about two weeks, but it is definitely for the best!
If you’re interested in learning some easy strategies for getting your child to sleep and stay asleep without requesting the bottle, I’d love to chat further!
Simply give me a call at (832) 640-5492, or email me at email@example.com with any questions you might have. I’m here to help!
To healthy sleep,
Kaley Medina, Your Dallas Sleep Consultant
Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Consultant
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