How to wean your toddler off of night feedings

Nighttime feedings for babies are a given, but what if your toddler never dropped the habit? These tips can help.

A baby and toddler sleeping in a bed together
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To feed or not to feed in the middle of the night – that is the question. Experts agree that if your baby is younger than 6 months old, it's developmentally appropriate to feed them when they wake up hungry at night.

But once they're past the 6-month mark, you can skip the midnight snack(s). The goal is to separate eating from going to sleep so that if your child does wake up at night, they won't need your breast, a bottle, or a sippy cup to get back to sleep.

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Getting your baby to sleep through the night can be quite a process – one that continues into the toddler years. If your toddler is still waking up for a midnight feeding, here's what you can do.

What to do if your 1-year-old wakes up for milk at night

By this age, your child gets enough nutrition during the day and doesn't need to eat at night. If you continue to breastfeed or give them a bottle when they wake during the night, it could make sleep issues worse.

Here's how you can respond when your 1-year-old wakes up asking for the breast or bottle:

  • Just say no. It might be tough, but you can try to get your toddler to quit night feedings cold turkey.
  • Try to teach your child various sleep associations – like a bedtime bath, story time, or other ritual – that don't involve eating so they don't get locked into needing food to help them nod off.
  • Tag in your partner for help with nighttime weaning. By asking them to take over night wakings, it might be easier to wean from the breast or give up overnight bottles they associate with your presence.
  • Keep nighttime wakings calm and brief. If your toddler wakes at night, offer them comfort but avoid turning on the lights or engaging in conversation.

And here's what you can do to prevent your 1-year-old from waking up at night to eat:

  • If your toddler still wants to drink out of a bottle, make it part of your bedtime ritual instead of giving it to them when they wake up at night. Keep in mind that it's recommended to wean toddlers off bottles completely by 2 years old. 
  • Give them a transitional object or lovey, like a teddy bear, to snuggle with at night. At this age, the bottle is more for comfort and relaxation than anything else, so if they have something else to comfort them, they may sleep better.
  • Put your little one to bed while they're still awake. Learning to doze off on their own while they're calm and drowsy is a skill they can turn to when they wake at night.
  • Make sure your little one's nutritional and emotional needs are met during the day. If your toddler is waking hungry or desperate for a snuggle, take a look at your daytime routine to make sure they're eating and drinking enough, and also getting quality time with you.

What to do if your 2- or 3-year old wakes up to eat at night

When your 2- or 3-year-old consistently wakes up at night to eat, it can feel like you may never get a good night's sleep again. Weaning a child who's accustomed to taking a bottle or sippy cup at night isn't easy, but making the leap can improve sleep and protect their dental health. Taking a bottle or sippy to bed as well as breastfeeding overnight are associated with tooth decay, giving you another reason to create a new bedtime and overnight routine.

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Here's how you can help your 2- or 3-year-old sleep through the night:

  • Change up their meal routine. Feed them smaller dinners and give them a snack right before they go to bed that will tide them over for the night.
  • Add a cuddle with a transitional item, like a lovey or a small blanket, to your child's bedtime routine, and then put them to bed with this item instead of a bottle or sippy.
  • Avoid screen exposure during the hour leading up to bedtime and keep electronic devices out of your toddler's bedroom. Screen time at night can make it harder for children to settle down and sleep.
  • Teach your toddler to use an open cup. Weaning from the bottle entirely is recommended when your toddler is between 1 and 2 years old. By 2 years old, experts also suggest giving up the sippy for an open-mouth cup. Knowing the bottle is available might make it harder for your child to wean at night and could prevent them from eating enough at mealtimes.
  • Comfort your child when they wake at night, but keep it low-key. Avoid turning on the lights or engaging in conversation.
  • Create a consistent bedtime routine along with a consistent response to nighttime wakings. It will take time before your little one adjusts to sleeping through the night without a bottle or breastfeeding, but remaining consistent can be your biggest tool during this change.
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Mary Sauer

Mary Sauer is a freelance parenting and health writer living in Kansas City. She is a mom of four and loves to hike with her kids, read, and knit. Cooking a complicated meal her kids probably won't eat is one of her favorite pastimes.