If you’re a parent whose toddler enjoys a bottle of milk before bed, you’re not alone.
There might be many reasons why you feel reluctant to break this habit.
There are also very good reasons to do it, such as reducing your toddler’s risk of tooth decay.
If your toddler is a fussy eater, you might feel his bottle of milk before bed provides a bit of a safety net.
Even if your toddler spends the whole day eating very little, you rely on his bedtime bottle to provide essential nutrients, such as calcium.
How To Break Your Toddler’s Bottle Before Bedtime Habit
The bottle before bedtime often provides toddlers with a sense of security and comfort, making it easier for them to go off to sleep at night.
Because of that, you might worry about how you’ll get your toddler to settle to sleep at bedtime without the bottle.
Here are 7 tips to help you break your toddler’s bottle before bedtime habit.
#1: Change The Routine
Understandably, you may feel reluctant to change your child's bedtime routine. No parent enjoys disturbing the peace!
However, by going gently on both yourself and your child, banishing the bottle is completely achievable.
Firstly, avoid going cold turkey. Make this a gradual process.
You can start by changing your toddler’s routine. You can do this by giving milk in a cup, away from the bedroom. Once finished, begin a regular bedtime routine of bath, teeth, cuddles and bed. You can tweak the routine to your own preferences, for example including a story or other special bedtime rituals.
Over time, this new routine will become the familiar routine – the key is to be consistent while you're making the change.
#2: Provide Lots Of Positive Encouragement
All of us could do with a little positive encouragement from time to time! Especially when it's something so big for the little people in our lives.
Using positive words of encouragement, as well as being patient and supportive, will help make this a less traumatic experience for both you and your child.
#3: Watering Down The Milk Might Help
It can be helpful to encourage your child to give up the bedtime bottle by watering down the milk over several nights.
By watering down the milk until it's water, your child might decide those bedtime bottles aren't as good as they used to be!
Around this time you might like to try changing from a bottle to a cup.
#4: Choose Your Time Wisely
Trying to change habits during stressful times can be very difficult.
If your family are going through any stressful or unsettling events, for example, moving house, separation, a new baby in the house or other changes, consider delaying until things as a little more stable.
#5: Alternative Sources Of Calcium
There are plenty of ways toddlers can get the calcium they need. Calcium is found not just in milk, but in all dairy foods, including cheese and yoghurt.
BellyBelly’s dietician, Feng-Yuan Liu of Metro Dietetics says, “In many ways, natural yoghurts and cheeses offer more nutritional benefits. Through their fermentation process, yoghurts and cheeses have less sugar, more protein and gut benefitting properties, which milk doesn’t have. In addition, cheeses and yoghurts can be delicious to eat on their own, as well as combined to enhance flavours in food”.
Ways to introduce dairy into your toddler's diet include:
- Grating cheese over meals
- Having sticks of hard yellow cheese to snack on
- Having natural Greek yoghurt with some berries
- Adding cheese to frittatas.
“Calcium content is also much richer in cheese when compared with milks and yoghurts, gram for gram. Especially when your toddlers are consuming full fat cheese and other healthy natural fats in their diet, they will have a much greater rate of absorbing the calcium into their growing bones”, says Feng-Yuan.
Other sources of calcium, such as almonds, are not only a choking hazard for little mouths, but they’re not so well absorbed. Children need around 1.5 serves of dairy each day to meet their calcium requirements.
Examples of a standard serve of dairy are:
- 1 cup full cream milk (250mL)
- 1 tub yoghurt (200mL)
- 2 slices of cheese (40g).
When buying foods for your toddler, especially yoghurts, always check the sugar content. Just under 4 grams is one teaspoon of sugar – you'll be horrified at how much sugar is contained in most commercial yoghurts.
#6: Too Much Calcium Can Be A Problem
It’s also important to know too much calcium can actually be a problem for your toddler.
When giving your toddler dairy, aim for 1.5 serves per day.
If your child has less dairy one day and more the next, this isn't a problem – as long as it all balances out.
#7: Your Toddler’s ‘Fussy’ Eating Could Be Normal
It’s common for parents to worry about their toddler’s eating habits. But could you be worrying unnecessarily?
It’s completely normal for toddlers to be picky eaters… and to be asserting their independence! A healthy child will never go hungry.
A toddler’s growth rate actually slows compared with the first year, and so they actually don’t need as much nutrition as you would expect.
As long as your toddler is growing, pooing and weeing regularly, and will eat some components of the family meal most nights, these are good signs they are meeting their requirements.
In fact, toddlers are very good at self-regulation when it comes to their food intake. They might eat a lot one day and not so much the next day. Toddler brains are hard-wired to be little scientists, working out how the world works at the moment, rather than being too interested in eating.
It can be helpful to look at what your toddlers eat over the week, rather than whether or not they are getting all of their nutrients day to day.
One of the best things you can do is to make sure there's always something on offer during dinnertime that you know is a preferred food and is filling. And it's important to ensure meals on offer are rich in nutrients – like those found in good quality meats, chicken, fish, and eggs.
You should offer plenty of variety in vegetables, and lots of healthy fats, in the form of cheese, avocado, oils and butter. As well as being nutrient dense, these foods are also very filling.
If you’re still worried your child hasn't eaten enough at dinnertime, or you choose not to offer a preferred food to go alongside his meal, you might like to offer some supper before the bedtime routine, so your toddler doesn't go to bed with an empty tummy.
Supper is not a reward for eating dinner, nor is it reliant on their behaviour or performance at dinnertime. It’s just another little meal at the end of the day.
If your toddler is still hungry and you feel they need something extra before bed, Feng-Yuan suggests offering them some cheese, a mashed egg with some avocado, or some natural macadamia nut butter with sticks of carrot.
You should offer these foods only under special circumstances; they shouldn't become a reward for eating dinner, or a substitute for dinner.
Remember: your toddlers' intake will vary from day to day. Offering a variety of vegetables, meat, and healthy fats during the day will help children get used to different tastes and textures.
If your child is a very fussy eater, is not growing well, or if you feel concerned about lack of food variety, an Accredited Practising Dietitian who specialises in paediatric nutrition will be able to help.