Q: My toddler is 2 years old. She still wakes up in the night asking for milk in the past few months. I don’t think she’s hungry as she eats a lot in the day. What should I do? Do I just wait it out? Will she grow out of it?
A: In general, I would say that babies who are 6 months and older are able to sleep through the night without a feed. Some may still need one night feed up until the first year. If your baby is older than a year, she does not need night feeds for nutritional purposes. Especially if she is getting enough calories in the day. Unless she has been prescribed by the doctor to keep her milk intake up at night for medical reasons, there is no reason for her to take the milk every single night.
I also hear parents saying “but if I don’t give it to her, she would scream and demand for it and would end up being more awake. I can’t handle that because I have to go to work the next day.”
In my approach to help with sleep issue such as this, I would want to know how she is put to sleep. Does she NEED to have the bottle and fall asleep with it in her mouth? Or does she take her milk right before she dozes off? Assuming the answer is yes to both questions, I would propose that she takes her milk at the beginning of the bedtime instead of the last thing she does before sleeping. I also suggest telling her ahead of time that tonight, she is going to sleep without the bottle and that you are going to help her go to sleep.
Then when the lights are out, and she asks for a bottle, remind her again, “Dearie, you are not having the bottle to sleep anymore, you already had your milk. I’m going to help you fall asleep by being close to you.”
This most likely would result in either a big protest or a huge cry.
Why is this happening? From Aware Parenting perspective, the bottle has been used to repress any uncomfortable feelings even during daytime. Most of the time, in cases similar to this, I discover that the child drinks 5 bottles of 8oz in a day and 3 bottles at night each time the child wakes. This seems to be a lot more than what is required nutritionally. It has become apparent that the bottle is used as comfort or control pattern to hold down feelings.
When I suggest families to remove the bottle, this also means that there is nothing to hold down the feelings that have been accumulated, up to that point. So the child cries, screams, kicks, writhes to heal from all the hurt and feelings that were not heard but been repressed by the bottle feed.
I recommend always holding for young babies or staying very close to older child when they are crying. This gives them the emotional safety and message, “It’s alright, you are safe to let out your feelings. I’m here to listen to your feelings.”
The more the child is allowed to cry in your loving arms or presence, the more uncomfortable feelings are dispersed and discharged. You will see that she no longer needs the bottle at night to fall asleep. Just your calming and loving presence is all she needs to sleep through the night.
This may take a few nights but most parents reported to me that it took them 2-3 nights for their toddler to stop asking for the bottle and just needing reassurance from mommy or daddy in order to fall back asleep if they woke in the night.
With that said, if the bottle is being used to repress feelings as comfort and a control pattern, it is unlikely that your child will ever grow out of it.