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Our 2 year old toddler has become quite attached to taking his sippy cup of milk to bed with him at bedtime.

We're concerned this will cause .. issues .. down the road with toilet training and sleeping through the night without accidents.

On the other hand, he's been coughing a lot lately and might naturally want some fluids at night, too.

Should we be strict and discourage our toddler from getting in the habit of keeping a sippy cup of milk or water with him at bedtime?

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When you say "to bed" do you mean "to suck on while he falls asleep" or "to keep on the nightstand in case it's wanted" ? –  HedgeMage Apr 8 '11 at 20:37
    
@hedge a little of both, probably. He's a milkaholic. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 8 '11 at 22:48
    
How much is in the cup? Can you get away with reducing the amount gradually over time? –  JBRWilkinson Apr 9 '11 at 11:36

11 Answers 11

I would change the sippy from milk to water as they should be brushing their teeth between milk and bed, and discourage falling asleep with the sippy IN their mouth. Limiting the volume of water in the sippy may be a option as well.

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Birth to Five, a book from the UK National Health Service, says that milk or water is okay to drink at night.

http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/birthtofive/Pages/Caringforchildsteeth.aspx

At bedtime or during the night, give your baby milk or water rather than baby juices or sugar-sweetened drinks.

Water is probably better.

But there is another reason to avoid sippy-cups (cups with valves) - they can delay speech, can contribute to tooth decay, and can cause problems with hearing.

http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/birthtofive/Pages/Drinksandcups.aspx

It’s important to choose the right kind of beaker or cup. A beaker with a free-flow lid (without a non-spill valve) is better than a bottle or beaker with a teat. Drinks flow very slowly through a teat, which means that children spend lot of time with the teat in their mouth. This can delay speech development and damage teeth, especially if they're drinking a sweetened drink. As soon as your child is ready, encourage them to move from a lidded beaker to drinking from a cup.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000638.htm

Ear infections are also more likely if a child spends a lot of time drinking from a sippy cup or bottle while lying on his or her back.

To answer your question about bed wetting: Cutting back on fluids won't help.

http://www.nhs.uk/Planners/birthtofive/pages/bedwetting.aspx

Cutting back on fluids won’t help as your child’s bladder will simply adjust to hold less. It is better for your child to drink around six or seven cups of fluid during the day so that their bladder learns to cope with a healthy amount of fluid. Don't give your child drinks with caffeine, such as tea, cola and chocolate, before they go to bed. These can stimulate the kidneys to produce more urine.

Bedwetting is normal up to the age of around 5 or 6.

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Adding a comment here - tooth decay is a major cause for hospital admission for children in the UK. And it is getting worse, not better, according to this report. <telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/4699838/…; –  DanBeale Aug 6 '11 at 7:19

I would seriously consider weaning your child from the habit of bringing a cup to bed. If they are coughing at night, a vaporizer or humidifier can do wonders.

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The vaporizer worked wonders for my baby when she was sick and coughing. –  Corvus Melori Jun 20 '11 at 8:01
    
I should have added: another thing that does wonders for a persistent cough is to put Vicks Vapor Rub on the child's feet before going to bed. (Cover with socks or footie pajamas.) It sounds weird, but does work! –  SturdyErde Jun 20 '11 at 11:54

It may or may not be related, but I can tell you that my whole family has had issues wetting the bed as children. Most didn't stop until 7 or 8 years old. There was no drinking anything after dinner and it still happened. Sometimes it's just genetic.

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Our dentist made sure to ask, at my child's first visit, whether we let him go to bed with milk or a bottle/sippy cup. He said that he deals with a lot of kids who have rotting teeth due to milk sitting on them all night, and/or badly misaligned teeth due to nighttime sippy-cup chewing. His recommendations were as follows:

  • Children with teeth should be allowed nothing but water after night-time brushing. If your child consumes anything else, especially anything containing sugars (including milk -- lactose is a sugar) he/she must brush again before sleeping.

  • If your child wants water at night, he/she should have a nightstand or other surface near the bed to leave it on. Once a child has teeth, nighttime chewing and sucking serve to misalign the teeth, making it more likely that your child will eventually need braces. By making sure that your child's water stays on a nightstand when not in use, you give your child a better chance at good teeth.

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good to know, but per "due to milk sitting on them all night, and/or badly misaligned teeth due to nighttime sippy-cup chewing" I wouldn't characterize him as falling asleep with it in his mouth. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 8 '11 at 23:39
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Then as long as you are giving him water instead of milk, it probably won't hurt a thing. :) –  HedgeMage Apr 8 '11 at 23:42
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@Jeff I asked about that very point when our dentist asked the same question. She said little kids aren't yet ask skilled at getting all the liquid out of their mouths when they swallow a mouthful they got slowly from a sippy cup. So there would still be a bit of milk in his mouth mixed with saliva quite awhile after drinking. If they're awake and upright, it eventually gets washed down by the extra saliva, but once they're laying down / asleep that stops and the milk will sit in their mouth all night. –  cabbey Apr 15 '11 at 20:28
    
+1 for milk + teeth problems, my first thought on reading the question. And as you say, it doesn't matter whether the cup stays in his mouth or not. Same logic as for eating a sweet/candy before bedtime. –  Benjol Apr 28 '11 at 8:56
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Totally agree with this answer, just want to add that our (nearly) 3YO boy is almost completely potty trained now, and still takes a sippy of water to bed with him. (Since his mattress is on the floor, he props the cup up in the corner.) We don't feel that the cup hurt potty training at all, but we also don't feel he would suck on it out of boredom or for comfort. With the expected outliers, he has been waking up dry in the morning for several months now. Oh, and we also only put about an inch of water in the cup. There's no need for a full cup. –  Adam Tuttle Nov 21 '11 at 13:36

Don't discourage it for a few reasons.

  • If your kid is going to wet the bed, he or she's going to wet the bed. The reason they wet the bed is because the signal to the brain when he or she has to pee isn't functional (or, functional enough) yet so even a slight tingle would make them pee. [Bed wetting and potty training are totally different issues. Potty training you can train, bed wetting you really can't at that age (there's evolutionary reason for this as bed wetting is a social problem only). There's nothing wrong with pullups for bedtime only when they are THAT young.

  • It's a GOOD thing to stay hydrated! Milk is 89% water: http://www.diet.com/g/dehydration and as a nation (about 75% of us) don't drink enough water. You should keep her in the habit of always drinking something, don't discourage it!

  • To help prevent peeing the bed, and as a good habit for anyone, you should have him / her pee right before bed.

There are some links to milk and tooth decay but things like water would be fine. Im not going to lie tho, i personally have been drinking soda before bed since I was damn young and have never had an issue with this, but it IS something to consider.

P.S. Hope the sources were good, but also, I have a baby of my own and i grew up and watched my 3 siblings all from infant to being potty trained. My parents didnt care about them bringing any drink to bed, none had any bed wetting issues, ALL were potty trained normal time or before their peers. I really just don't think that matters.

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Once you start a routine, children that age will begin to insist on it.

It took us a long while to wean my son off his requisite "sippy cup at bedtime" and during the process he did have additional trouble with refusing to go to sleep. But we had to do it because, at over 4 years old and fully potty trained for a year and a half, he was occasionally wetting the bed (even having used the bathroom just before bed).

What we ended up doing to ease the transition was allowing him a small cup of water at bedtime, if he requested it. We would bring in the water, and he would drink what he wanted, then we would take the cup out with us. That worked well because we could control the portion to prevent any accidents. Giving him some water eased the tension for him of not being allowed to have the water in bed.

Its also not good to get in this habit as at some point you won't want to use sippy cups anymore. When they graduate to a "big kid cup" there will be a lot more risk of spilling the water itself in bed.

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I believe the implication behind your question is that toilet training might be harder if a child is more likely to need to go during the night - and I am not sure that is always right.

My own experience with four children (one still going through this process!) leads me to believe it is a mental battle rather than a physical one - my aim was to train our children to want to go in the loo rather than in bed. I have not found magical solution - molding a child's will is harder than most other jobs in my experience (certainly including my day job as an Oracle DBA) - each of our children was different to the others and patience and persistence were essential.

The things that helped us were mostly practical steps to make it as easy as possible to clear up each time - ideal would be being able to put the bed stuff on to rinse (not wash!), change the bed, comfort and clean up a little bemused half-asleep tot all without ever fully waking up :)

For me giving the children drinks at night (except when they are ill) seems unnecessary and makes life that tiny little bit harder. On the other hand if you take the drink away and your little boy complains, whatever hardship and struggle you go through getting them to accept that you are in charge pays back many times over.

YMMV

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I wouldn't discourage taking a sippy cup to bed at all. This could cause unnecessary confrontation. If you're worried about potty training / bed-wetting, the following routine has worked well for us with our 3 potty-trained children. Have them:

  • Drink a big glass of water (or whatever drink) an hour before bedtime
  • Go to the bathroom right before they go to sleep
  • Take a sippy cup that is only half full to bed with them
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as they wake up

None of our children have had issues with wetting their beds following this simple plan.

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My daughter was insistent on taking a drink to bed for a long time, probably from a similar age until she was about 4. Unfortunately, once we'd finally decided to intervene (I think a few months before she turned 3), it was way too late and had reached the stage where it was a pretty fixed routine for her; breaking it was very difficult. Our refusal of a drink at bed time made her refuse to sleep (crying, leaving bedroom, secretly playing with toys, etc). Sneaking the drink out after she was asleep would result in being woken up at various unpleasant times in the morning because she couldn't find her cup (this would also happen when she had the cup and it fell on the floor, down the side of the bed, etc, but with lower frequency). Giving her a smaller quantity of drink resulted in arguments at bedtime (because she didn't want a "small" drink) or again with midnight wake-ups because the cup was empty. Pretending to run out of water didn't work. "Losing" the cup didn't work. And so on...

In the end it was a phase that (eventually) faded away on its own, although it still feels like it took a very long time to get there; I suspect most of our efforts to combat it were fruitless, if not counter-productive.

We did experience problems with toilet training, and I think that this was a major factor, because she was consistently wet during the night for a long time. It took her longer to be effectively toilet trained than the vast majority of her peers at nursery, and she continued to have accidents for a much longer period as well. Even as we made progress during the day, she had to keep nappies on during the night (because she would fill them, or without them would soak the bed), which I'm sure impeded her daytime success.

So, based on our generally negative experiences, my advice in response to your headline question is:
Yes, at least gently discourage this behaviour to prevent it from becoming part of their expected routine.

However, do note that my daughter is now almost 5, and at school, and we have no continuing toilet-related problems, so thankfully there doesn't seem to have been a long-term detrimental effect.

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Just spotted this answer, which is relevant as well. –  DMA57361 Apr 8 '11 at 12:13

We went through a similar stage with our 2-year old (for very similar reasons). I don't think it has caused any particular longer term problems subsequently. We would often go in once she was asleep and remove it, so there wouldn't be any problems with rolling over and waking her up in the wee small hours. We tried to also leave it on the beside table/floor/bottom of the bed, although that generally didn't work.

Aside from the short-term reasons (coughing and warm weather, etc.) I think it was just a phase. She went through a phase of demanding a tissue to blow her nose for a few weeks, too. That passed.

That said, I go to bed with a glass of water, so I don't see why she shouldn't!

FWIW, we tended towards water rather than milk (for sugar/teeth) reasons, too.

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"That said, I go to bed with a glass of water, so I don't see why she shouldn't!" - by the same logic, your child should come and clean up if you spill your drink :) –  Jack Douglas Apr 8 '11 at 17:18
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@JackPDouglas eventually ... –  Unsliced Apr 9 '11 at 7:42

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