How To Get A Toddler To Sleep Without A Bottle Instantly!

Author Image By Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH •  Updated: 12/27/23 •  Sleep / Sleep Tips

Holding a baby and giving them the last bottle of the day before bedtime is a very precious moment for new parents. It’s also loved by your little one… They’re warm, cozy, comfortable, full of milk, and drowsy.

But as your baby grows up and no longer needs a feed before bed, giving up that final bottle can be very hard because it’s such a strong sleep association and may be the only way they’ll fall asleep…

Meaning the transition to a bottle-less bedtime can be a bumpy one. So here’s how to get a toddler to sleep without a bottle as quickly & painlessly as possible!

How To Get A Toddler To Sleep Without A Bottle Featured Image

Key Takeaways

  1. Prolonged bottle use beyond 18 months can cause tooth decay and health problems, so it’s recommended to wean a toddler off their nighttime bottle by then. The longer you leave it the harder the habit will be to break.
  2. Gradual approaches like giving the bottle earlier in the bedtime routine, offering drinks from a cup instead, and introducing comfort items are ideal ways to stop a toddler from needing a bottle before bed.
  3. Teaching self-soothing skills by establishing a soothing bedtime routine, encouraging them to fall asleep on their own, and even using gentle sleep training methods helps break the feed-to-sleep association and the reliance on a bottle for comfort.

Why Do Toddlers Love Bottles At Bedtime?

Toddlers can easily become reliant on a bottle to settle them at bedtime because it provides them with a sense of comfort and security. 

In these situations, the bottle inevitably becomes a strong association with sleep.

However, toddlers don’t need to have a bottle at bedtime developmentally and at this stage in their development, it’s just a habit. 

I am always emphasizing how important it is to establish healthy sleep habits and for toddlers, this would include weaning your toddler off the bedtime bottle. 

When To Wean Your Toddler Off Their Nighttime Bottle

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should be weaned off their nighttime bottle by the age of 1 year old, as prolonged bottle use can cause tooth decay and lead to other health problems.

If your toddler still needs a bottle to fall asleep beyond 18 months, I certainly recommend getting a plan of action in place to manage the bedtime bottle weaning.

How To Get A Toddler To Sleep Without A Bottle

While it can certainly be challenging to wean your toddler off their bedtime bottle, remember it is essential to wean your toddler off the bottle to promote healthy sleep habits. Here are some of my tried and tested tips for how to get a toddler to sleep without a bottle:

How To Get A Toddler To Sleep Without A Bottle

1. Give The Bottle Earlier In The Bedtime Routine

Tried and tested over the 40+ years of my nannying career, I have found this a very effective way to wean your toddler off the bottle at bedtime. It works by giving your toddler a drink after their bath and before storytime instead of at the end of the routine.

This way your toddler still has the comfort of a drink before bed, but it isn’t associated with falling asleep immediately afterward.

2. Offer The Last Drink Of The Day In A Cup

Another favorite way of mine to wean toddlers off their bedtime bottles is to offer a milky drink in a sippy cup (or regular plastic cup) after their bath. You can then brush your toddler’s teeth and settle down for storytime before saying goodnight. 

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3. Try Going Cold Turkey

To get a toddler to fall asleep without a bottle, you can go cold turkey and remove the bottle altogether… However, this rarely works unless your toddler has quite naturally shown signs of no longer wanting the bottle to fall asleep. 

Give it a try and see if your toddler goes with the flow.

4. Introduce Alternative Comforts

Your toddler no longer needs a bottle for nutritional purposes so they are primarily using the bottle as a source of comfort. 

One way to wean your little one off their bottle is to try to introduce other comfort items when falling asleep instead, such as a favorite stuffed animal or comfort blanket. 

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5. Make The Bedtime Routine Comforting

As well as offering a drink earlier in the routine, ensure your toddler’s bedtime routine is as cozy and comforting as possible: 

6. Encouraging Self-Soothing

Teaching your toddler to self-soothe by encouraging them to fall asleep on their own will most definitely help them find new ways of settling to sleep. 

Establish a recognizable and stable bedtime routine that includes a warm bath, reading a story, singing a lullaby, or cuddling. 

Give your toddler a favorite soft toy or blanket to sleep with to offer extra comfort. 

Practice self-settling at nap times too when they may not have had a bottle to settle them in preparation for not having a bottle at bedtime.

7. Consider Gentle Sleep Training Methods

To help your toddler learn to fall asleep without their bottle you may have to resort to some form of gentle sleep training

Be prepared to stay and help your toddler fall asleep when they no longer have their bottle. 

Avoid rocking or holding them to fall asleep… but rather start by sitting by their bedside for a few nights and then gradually retreating from the room until they can fall asleep without you present.

Here are some of my favorite toddler sleep training methods. But please note, that I do not recommend the cry-it-out method.

How To Break The Feed To Sleep Association

If your toddler has become reliant on a bottle to fall asleep, breaking the association can be tricky but it is necessary to establish your little one’s healthy long-term sleep habits

Here are some tips to help you break the feed-to-sleep association:

When To Talk To A Pediatrician

If you are unsure how to go about weaning your toddler off their bedtime bottle or are struggling with the process you could consult with a pediatrician or sleep expert.  

They will be able to provide you with guidance and support throughout the process and also answer any questions you may have about your child’s nutrition, teeth, and overall health.

Your pediatrician may discuss with you the potential risks associated with prolonged bottle use, such as obesity, constipation, and iron deficiency. They can also help you understand what your toddler’s nutrition and hydration requirements are.

Also if you’re weaning your toddler off their bottle and you notice these signs, talk to your pediatrician as soon as possible:

Looking to get your little one to sleep quickly and effortlessly? Check out my Bedtime and Nap Cheat Sheet and master the art of making daytime naps and bedtimes as seamless as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting A Toddler To Sleep Without A Bottle

There were a few questions that kept popping up when I was writing this article, so if you want to learn more about how to get a toddler to sleep without a bottle, you’re in the perfect place. Here are the most frequently asked questions, answered just for you.

Q: Should I let my toddler cry it out? 

A: Crying it out can be distressing for your child and should only be used as a last resort to breaking the feed-to-sleep association. Try other forms of sleep training first such as gradual retreat or promised return. Giving up the bedtime bottle is not easy for your toddler so the best approach is a gradual one with lots of love and support.

Q: What if my toddler wakes up hungry in the middle of the night? 

A: If your child wakes up hungry, you could offer them a small snack or a drink of water. Avoid using a bottle or feeding them back to sleep as this can reinforce the feed-to-sleep association. Toddlers should not be waking out of hunger so check they are getting enough to eat during the day or offer a bedtime snack to help get them through the night. 

Q: Can a bedtime routine really make a difference? 

A: Yes, a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to your toddler that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. This routine can also help your child feel more secure and relaxed, making it easier for them to fall asleep without needing a bottle.

Q: What is bottle mouth syndrome?

A: Bottle mouth syndrome is a dental condition caused by tooth decay and cavities from the sugar in juice or milk, leading to painful and costly dental procedures. It occurs when a child is frequently given a bottle of milk or juice to fall asleep which is why it’s important to avoid giving your baby a bottle to fall asleep and to practice good oral hygiene.

Q: Do toddlers need milk before bed?

A: While milk is a good source of nutrients, toddlers do not need to drink milk before bed. However, a warm milky drink can be soothing and if offered from a cup can be an effective part of the bedtime routine. The drink should be offered after bathtime, and followed by teeth brushing before storytime.

Q: Is feeding to sleep a bad habit?

A: Feeding to sleep can become a bad habit for toddlers, and can make it difficult for them to fall asleep without a bottle or breast. Encouraging your toddler to fall asleep without feeding will help them develop healthy sleep habits moving forward and will also help them resettle after night waking.

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Author Image Bio
Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and a highly qualified childcare expert with over 40 years of experience as a Norland Nanny. She holds a BA (Hons) in Early Years Development & Learning (0-6 Years) and the prestigious Norland Diploma. Paula has worked as a night nanny, run a successful daycare center in London, and helped raise countless children using her tried and tested developmental and guidance methods.

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