Transitioning Your Toddler from Nighttime Bottles: 3 Gentle Steps

Are you bottle-feeding your toddler and wondering how you’re ever going to get them to give it up? The widely-known recommendation is to wean them off it completely between 12-18 months, whether it’s bottles of formula, cows’ milk, or breastmilk.

The reason for this recommendation is that after 12 months of age, drinking bottles of milk can lead to tooth decay, obesity, and the tendency to eat less solids, meaning that they miss out on essential nutrients to support their growth and development.

After 12 months, toddlers can continue to breastfeed, drink milk from a cup, or drink tap water.

If your little one is attached to their bedtime bottle or waking in the night and needing milk to get back to sleep, it can be a daunting prospect to think about how you’re going to get them to sleep without it – and without any tears and sleepless nights!

No need to stress, we’ve got you covered. Weaning your toddler off their nighttime bottle can be done gently, gradually, and with respect and compassion. Here is how to go about it, step by step, along with some tips to support the process.

Transitioning Your Toddler from Nighttime Bottles: 3 Gentle Steps

If your baby is nearing their first birthday or they’re over 12 months, you can start to wean them off their bottle gradually by following these steps:

1. Start with the daytime bottles (if applicable)

If your child still has a bottle when they wake in the morning or before a nap, for instance, it’s a good idea to start with the easiest one. That might be the morning feed. For instance:

  • Swap the bottle with a cup of milk and offer it alongside their breakfast. Once your little one is used to that after a few days or more, work on the next daytime bottle. Keep doing this until all daytime bottles have been replaced with cups of milk.
  • Gradually reduce the cups of milk, either by reducing the volume or diluting the milk (keep reading to find out how to do this), until your little one is only drinking water from a cup. Most toddlers don’t need to drink milk at all if they’re meeting their calcium needs through their diet. Read Introducing cows’ milk to toddlers to find out how much they need.

2. Remove the bedtime bottle 

Once your toddler is no longer having bottles during the day, and/or they’re used to drinking their milk from a straw cup or open cup, it’s time to focus on the bedtime bottle. There are a number of different ways you can do this:

  • Swap the bottle of milk with a cup of milk (as above): If your little one becomes upset about it at first, swap it back to a bottle, and try again the next night, and repeat as your little one becomes more familiar and feels safe with what you’re trying to achieve. Keep trying each night but not to the point where your child becomes distressed. It’s a learning process.
  • Gradually dilute the milk: For either breast milk, cows’ milk, or formula, gradually over several nights, add water to the milk in their bottle. This could be: Nights 1-3 is 75% milk and 25% water; nights 3-6 is 50% milk and 50% water; and nights 6-9 is 25% milk and 75% water, and then finally, it’s a bottle of water. After a few nights of offering them water at bedtime, they’ll get the idea that milk isn’t an option anymore.
  • Gradually reduce the volume: Similar to the diluting milk strategy, you would just reduce the amount of milk in each bottle over several nights. Go at a pace that works best for your child, and gradually allow them to adjust to the reductions in milk until there are no more bottles. Offer some water in a bottle instead so that they realise that milk is no longer available at bedtime.
  • Offer a bottle away from bedtime: If you decide that you want to keep the bedtime bottle for a while longer, but you want to wean them off the overnight bottles (or in other words, you don’t want it to be used as a sleep association), you can offer it earlier and away from the bedroom. For instance, you might give them a bottle in the living room after their bath to relax them but not put them to sleep, before moving onto the bedtime routine in their room. This separates milk from sleep.

3. Remove the overnight bottles

Use the same strategy you used for weaning them from the bedtime bottle for the overnight bottles. Because these bottles can be harder to give up, and let’s face it, you don’t want to be awake too long dealing with settling and resettling when the bottle is like a magic bullet, it’s a good idea to bring in some additional sleep cues and transitional objects, such as a comforter to replace the bottles. These articles will help you do that:

Tips to support your toddler through the bottle-weaning process

  • Communicate openly with your toddler about the weaning plan and process.
  • Role-play it with their favourite soft toys. Play a game with their teddy who give up the bottles but has cuddles instead (or whatever your soothing method will be).
  • Read picture books together that discuss the topic of weaning, such as ‘Bye-bye bottles, Zebra’ to introduce the idea to them.
  • Make it fun. Let them choose some special new cups to drink from or a special new comforter for bedtime.
  • Always offer food before milk, and you might like to offer a small snack of natural yoghurt before bed if they seem hungry.
  • Avoid weaning from the bottle during big events or stressful situations, such as starting childcare, illness, or a new baby in the family.
  • If your child struggles with the transition or finds it upsetting, you might need to stop for now and try again in a few weeks. It’s not a race, so go at their pace to continue creating a positive sleep environment.


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