Does a Toddler Need Milk Before Bed?

Your toddler may want milk right before bed, but that doesn't mean he or she needs it. According to the American Sleep Association, or ASA, you may be encouraging a bad habit if you capitulate to your toddler's whims. When your toddler asks for milk before bedtime, this can create an association between eating and drinking and sleep.

A toddler asleep in bed. (Image: canovass/iStock/Getty Images)

Nighttime Feeding Disorder

According to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, one of the three most common sleep disorders in infants and toddlers is a nighttime eating or drinking disorder. This occurs when your child is fed frequently--through nursing or bottle-feeding–in amounts that far exceed what your child actually needs for good nutrition. Once your child reaches the age of 5 to 6 months, feedings shouldn't consist of more than 8 ounces of fluid during the night.

When It's a Problem

Your toddler may feed excessively when he can't or won't go to sleep without first having something to drink. When your toddler associates milk with sleep, he may wake up during the middle of the night feeling "hungry," although he doesn't need additional sustenance, says the ASA. He likely won't be able to go back to sleep once he wakes up without eating or drinking something first.

Assessing the Problem

The easiest way to find out if your toddler is getting too much liquid intake before bedtime is to check her diaper, says the ASA. She's probably getting too much milk if her diaper is wet each time she wakes up during the night.

Stall Tactics

When your child asks to a glass of milk or water before bedtime, he may also be using this as a stall tactic to get out of going to bed. According to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, limit-setting disorders are generally more common in children who can communicate verbally and walk and run independently. Once in bed, your child may also tell you that he needs to go to the bathroom or that he wants one more hug or kiss–a request that gets your child out of bed. Crying and screaming may ensue when you don't meet the child's request.

Plan for Sleep

An important component of your plan to help your child develop healthy sleeping habits involves encouraging eating and drinking at appropriate times during the day. If a nighttime feeding disorder seems to be the problem, the Cincinnati Children's Hospital advises establishing specific times when your offer your child sustenance, decreasing the amount of time between feedings until they no longer occur at night. When your toddler wakes up in the middle of the night and asks for something to eat or drink, reassure him verbally, then give him time to drift back off to sleep on his own. If your toddler has limit-setting problems, be firm and consistent in your approach rather than giving in to your child's requests and demands.

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