You’ve found this blog post because more than likely you are ready for a change!
- Maybe you are ready to drop feeds in the middle of the night.
- Maybe you are ready to remove bottles at bedtime.
- Maybe you are ready to ditch bottles all together.
No matter your reason, let’s learn how to get your baby to sleep without a bottle.
When parents hear about dropping the feeding to sleep or weaning night feedings, they are often curious about crying. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that change is hard!
Your baby can’t use words to tell you that they are thrown off by habit changes, so they will likely cry (at least a little bit) when you remove the bottle.
However, this does not mean that you have to leave your baby alone in a room to cry for hours on end. There are tons of sleep teaching methods out there, including the work we do as Sleeper Teachers®. Curious about how we work with families? Let’s connect on a free sleep evaluation call.
Why does my baby fall asleep so easily on the bottle?
Most often, a little one falling asleep while feeding happens out of habit. They have been using feeding to get comfortable and fall asleep for many months, so it is what their body knows. In other words, feeding to sleep has become their sleep prop, or sleep dependency.
Feeding to sleep can be very sneaky because although it may be helpful in getting your little one to that initial nodding off stage (what we call “sleep onset”), they may become dependent on needing the prop (bottle or breast) to fall back to sleep after waking in the night.
When a baby wakes between sleep cycles and doesn’t have you there to feed them, it’s safe to assume they will be up until they get the feed. Once this starts happening every one to two hours throughout the night, frustration and sleep deprivation rush in!
How do I know if my baby is ready to sleep without a bottle?
Most infants are ready to wean night feeds (sleep 10 to 12 hours fasting) by the age of 6 months or once they reach 15 pounds, whichever comes first. We often recommend getting a thumbs up from your pediatrician if you desire to pull night feeds before these milestones.
Oftentimes, parents are hesitant to remove the bottle from sleep because they are worried that sleep will get worse.
As sleep experts we know that removing feeding to sleep at bedtime actually helps little ones learn the skill of sleep and leads to BETTER sleep for the whole family!
6 steps: how to get baby to sleep without a bottle
Until a little one learns how to fall asleep on their own, they will be constantly searching for their prop as they wake up through the night. Ready to change this? Here are the steps to take to teach bottle-free sleep!
1: Move the bottle to the first step of the bedtime routine
Rather than ending your nightly routine with the feed, start with it! This allows your baby to get a nice, full feed before bed without getting drowsy while sucking.
2: Put your baby down awake at bedtime
Expecting your baby to connect sleep cycles in the middle of the night without a bottle requires learning to fall asleep without the bottle at bedtime. This is what we call the skill of sleep independence.
Keep in mind that learning to fall asleep from an awake state will be completely new to your baby. Like any new skill, it will take time and practice. Because this is a big change, it’s likely they will cry some, at first. Crying is a natural, healthy way for your child to express themselves. Resist the urge to run in and pick up your baby at first cry. Instead, allow them a few minutes to practice getting to sleep on their own. Offering intermittent comfort through voice and gentle touch is recommended after a few minutes of allowing your baby some time to practice.
3: When they wake in the night, give them a little time
Before rushing in to soothe your baby when they wake up, give them a bit of time to work it out on their own. As mentioned before, crying or fussing is a child’s natural response to change. Parents who interfere too quickly prevent their child from practicing the new skill.
The more practice your baby gets falling asleep without needing the bottle, the better they will get at it! Remember, this is a skill and practice makes progress!
4: If you need to intervene, do so without a bottle
If your baby isn’t falling back to sleep on their own after giving them some time, go to them to provide some comfort (voice and touch often help), but refrain from offering the bottle.
If you decide to go in and feed your baby despite your goal of weaning night feeds, you will likely confuse them. The back and forth of offering the bottle and not offering the bottle not only leads to confusion, but it can teach a child to cry for food. We know that no parent wants that, so make sure you are ready to fully commit before starting the night weaning process.
5: If they wake early in the morning, wait until the desired wake time
Remember that most babies are capable of a nighttime fast (10 to 12 hours) after they hit 15 pounds or the 6 month mark, so rushing in early morning for a 4 am bottle is most often not necessary.
Offering some comfort through voice or touch without an early morning feed is the best way to prevent chronic early rising.
If you have a baby who is falling asleep on their own and biologically ready to sleep through the night but waking early, check out our early morning wake guide!
6: When it’s time for the morning feed, make it a big deal
Celebrate your baby making it through the night without a bottle by entering their room, opening the blinds, cuddling them and talking in an upbeat and excited tone. Wait 10-15 minutes or so before offering a bottle to ensure a clear separation between sleeping and eating.
This was a big night, which means baby will likely be ready for a nice, full bottle and some breakfast!
When to get help with weaning night feedings
Sometimes weaning night feeds can be complicated. Maybe your baby isn’t responding well to the changes. If you are one week into your night weaning plan and your child is still not sleeping through the night, it is likely that your approach needs modification.
If you would like customized support, accountability, and guidance in reaching your family sleep goals, head over to this link to book a free sleep evaluation call with one of our pediatric sleep consultants so we can get to know your family and chat about how we might be able to help.
And if you’re still in doubt, head over to our reviews page to read how impactful teaching independent sleep was for our clients. Lives change when everyone in a family sleeps!