Ask Dr. Sears: Bye-Bye, Bottle
Q Even though our toddler uses a sippy cup, she won't go to sleep without her bottle of milk. How can I wean her off it?
A It's understandable that you're anxious to wean her, since the longer your child takes the bottle, the more difficult it can be to break the habit. But try to appreciate why she's reluctant to surrender it. Sucking is relaxing, and she learned as a baby to associate it with going to sleep. Keep in mind, too, that it's not the act itself but what's in the bottle that's the real concern.
Drinking milk, formula, or juice before going off to sleep is bad for a toddler's teeth. The sugars in these liquids can cause plaque to build up and the teeth to erode. Since saliva flow (which acts as a natural rinser) decreases during the night, the conditions are ripe for bacteria growth. That's why it's particularly important that she brush her teeth in the morning.
A nighttime bottle-weaning trick I've used for years in my practice is "watering down": Over the course of a week, gradually dilute the milk with water (by 10 to 20 percent a day) until your child is drinking just pure water from her bottle. To keep her from waking you up at night, leave the water-filled bottle within her reach. You could also try letting her have the bottle for a few minutes until she's asleep and then withdrawing it right away -- it's better than letting her suck on it all night.
Another way to break the habit is to change the "prop." Your daughter is conditioned to expect the bottle at bedtime, so try replacing it with something else. A soft lovey, a pacifier, or a blanket to cuddle is a good choice.