When to Stop the Bedtime Bottle
December 3, 2021
In the early months of parenthood with your baby, feeding and sleeping are interconnected components of newborn care. The nutritional needs of young babies require frequent feedings due to young baby’s stomach sizes and the exponential rate of growth happening in newborns. Most babies will double their birth weight by 4 months of age! In addition to physical growth, we also know how much developmental growth is happening when we consider how newborns quickly morph into engaging, social individuals who are actively mastering motor skills such as rolling, sitting, crawling, cruising, babbling and playing all within the first 4-8 months of life. All of this growth and development is dependent upon good nutrition which comes primarily from breastmilk and/or formula throughout a baby’s first year of life.
Most parents will include a feeding as part of their nightly bedtime routine. If you bottle feed your baby, you may be wondering when to stop this bedtime bottle. The answer to this question really depends on the age of your baby as well as any additional developmental or nutritional needs that your baby may have. Young babies up to around 6 months of age will still continue to need a bedtime feeding for calories and to help them sleep. Hungry babies will wake to feed, so it is important to reiterate here that you should always feed a hungry baby! If you have been following your baby’s cues, you should feel confident that you know when to feed your baby by watching for hunger cues.
In addition to the nutritional needs of your baby, the bedtime feeding becomes a significant part of many family’s wind-down routines at bedtime. A warm bath, massage with lotion, getting into pajamas, and reading a story are a part of many bedtime routines. Within these steps, most parents include a bedtime feeding that serves to calm and relax their baby and helps to prepare for sleep. Therefore, when the time comes to think about eliminating the bedtime feeding, many parents begin to worry that this will negatively impact their baby’s ability to fall or stay asleep. The general consensus is that the bedtime bottle should be eliminated by the time your baby is around 1 year of age. Most babies are able to go without a bedtime bottle from about 9 months of age, so it might make sense to begin to formulate a plan for when you plan to stop your baby’s bedtime bottle.
At or around 9-12 months of age, most babies do not require the calories at bedtime because their caloric intake throughout the day will typically be enough. Most babies in this age range are drinking breastmilk or formula throughout the day and also getting supplemental solid foods multiple times per day. For this reason, the bedtime bottle can be eliminated. Another factor to consider is the negative impact of the bedtime bottle on your baby’s oral health. Nightly bottles in older babies can contribute to the breakdown of tooth enamel and early tooth decay. Most 9-12 month old babies have several teeth, so if you are still doing a bedtime bottle, or in the process of weaning the bedtime bottle, try to offer the bottle earlier in the bedtime routine so that you can brush your baby’s teeth before they fall asleep. One additional thing to note is that continued bedtime bottles beyond 1 year of age can contribute to additional weight gain that is not beneficial to your baby’s development.
When you decide it is time to eliminate your baby’s bedtime bottle, you can either stop cold turkey or begin a gradual weaning process. Parents can decide which method they think will work best for their child and family routine. Whichever method you choose, consider adding in some additional comfort-based routines to help your little one transition without the bottle. We’re not talking about big additions, but maybe add in a special nighttime song and snuggle, or begin practicing basic relaxation techniques with your little one that help to cue them to sleep such as a few deep breaths, turning on white noise, or a few gentle strokes of your baby’s head. Bear in mind that the first few days of implementing any change to your bedtime routine may cause some disruptions in falling asleep or even in your baby’s sleep patterns. But try to stay consistent every night so that your baby will adapt to the change and know what to expect. Stopping the bedtime bottle may feel a bit worrisome for parents, but have faith that your baby will look to you for reassurance through this transition.
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