‘We both work all day (and need our sleep) so, when our daughter wakes out at night, we’ve got into the bad habit of giving her bottle. Help!’
It’s understandable that you’ve been choosing the path of least resistance in getting your daughter back to sleep. With busy schedules and a demanding toddler draining your patience and your endurance, you probably don’t want to deal with any more resistance than you have to – especially at two or three in the morning.
But you’re right. Feeding your toddler in the middle of the night at this age (whether breast or bottle) is not a good idea. And for several reasons. For one, nighttime feeding is associated with the development of tooth decay. For another, your toddler doesn’t need nourishment during the night any more than you do; her body is equipped to go the ten or twelve hours of sleep in a fasting mode. (Keep in mind, thought, that if she’s not growing in weight and height as she should be – check out the growth chart – you should talk to her doctor to figure out how her daytime menus could be bedded up.) Feeding her when she doesn’t need to be fed can be obesity, confusion about the purpose of eating, and to eating for the wrong reasons. This in turn can cause weight problems later not in life. Filling up on fluids during the night waking, a result of uncomfortably wet nappies. What’s more, feeding your child is too close to waking can easily spoil her appetite for solids at breakfast. And finally, feeding your toddler to get her back to slumber, while undeniably effective, denied her the opportunity to learn how to fall back to sleep on her own, a skill she’ll need for the rest of her sleeping life.
Clearly, you and your toddler are caught in a vicious cycle of supply and demand. You supply your toddler’s tummy with a nighttime meal, and her tummy wakes her (and you) to demand a repeat each night – just as someone who regularly lunches at noon can expect hunger pangs to strike daily at the stroke of twelve. The only to train her to sleep through night without feeding is to cut off the nighttime food supply and reset her internal hunger clock.
You’re bound to meet up with some pretty heavy resistance – in the form of waking and crying – once you stop taking the path of least resistance. But eventually, both your toddler and you will sleep better for your efforts.
You have a double task: ending the night waking and the night feedings. You can go at both together, opting to try the techniques for ending night waking, described as above, to end night feedings cold turkey and turn your toddler’s sleeping habits around at the same time. Or you can try to wean your toddler for her midnight snacks first, and then work on the sleep problems if it continues. With this approach, when your toddler wakes at night, you substitute a bottle of water for the milk she’s been accustomed to. This allows her to use the bottle as a go-back-to-sleep aid a little longer. But more important, it will also reset her appestat (the control centre in the brain that oversees appetite) and end her middle-of-the-night need to feed, reducing the risk such feeding poses to her teeth and her weight. eventually, the bottle of water, too. Many toddlers decide it’s not worth waking up for it.
If your toddler continues to wake for a midnight snack, paltry though it may be, or conversely, if being handed a bottle of water launches her on a temper tantrum, then you’ll have no choice but to try option one, cold turkey.