When a child is under age 1, it’s common and expected for the baby to wake during the night to eat. Once a baby becomes a toddler, it may be time to encourage him to stop wanting milk in the middle of the night. Whether you are breastfeeding your child or he has been drinking formula or milk from a bottle, with time and patience, you can night-wean your toddler to help him sleep better.
Ensure your child is receiving adequate nutrition during the day when you plan to discontinue nighttime feedings, advises Dr. Laura Markham, clinical psychologist, with the Aha! Parenting website. Your toddler needs to be eating foods from each of the four food groups, including proteins, dairy products, cereals, fruits and vegetables. A standard toddler serving size is about one-quarter an adult serving size, states the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Create a consistent bedtime routine with your toddler that involves positive interaction, routine and lots of snuggling. A consistent routine helps your child build security because she understands and knows what to expect, advises Farrah Hughes, Ph.D., with Francis Marion University. Tuck your child into bed in a sleepy, yet awake, state.
Provide your child with a security object – a special toy or blanket – which can help him feel relaxed and secure in bed, advises Hughes. By the time your child hits the toddler stage, it's safe to allow him to sleep with a security object, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Visit your toddler in bed in the middle of the night if she wakes up for milk. Give her a hug to reassure and calm her. Tell your toddler in a loving, yet firm, voice that it’s time to go back to sleep. Tuck her into bed, pat her back, speak soothingly and tell your toddler to go back to sleep.
Offer a sippy cup of water if your child becomes upset or seems thirsty, suggests social worker Kim West, with the Sleep Lady website. Offering the water can help your child understand that she won’t have milk at night anymore. West recommends that parents not provide more than one cup of water in a single night.
Remain consistent with the new overnight routine so your toddler learns the new rules. While it may take a few nights for him to accept the idea, your consistency will help him adjust and accept that he won’t have milk in the middle of the night anymore.