Most babies love their bottle. But there comes a time when your child needs to kick the habit. The idea of transitioning away from bottles can be emotional (and slightly terrifying) for you and your partner—it marks the end of babyhood in many ways. It can be an even harder transition for your little one. A few simple steps can help ensure that the process is relatively painless for everyone involved.
Why You Should Bottle-Wean Your Child
Sure, it’s pretty unlikely that your child is going to be sucking on a bottle by the time they go to elementary school, but there are a few important reasons why you should bottle-wean baby sooner rather than later. For starters, prolonged bottle use “significantly increases” the risk for tooth decay and can increase the odds that your child will have a dental issue like an overbite or tooth protrusion, says Ashanti Woods, MD, a pediatrician at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center.
Bottles also tend to promote “snacking” behavior in toddlers, since they’re often available for a quick sip, says Daniel Hall, MD, a pediatrician at the Massachusetts General Hospital Revere Healthcare Center. “This can contribute to excessive weight gain, or for some toddlers, poor growth when they rely on the bottle instead other solid foods,” he says.
Toddlers tend to use bottles for comfort, just like pacifiers. It’s important to teach them to learn how to manage their feelings in a way that’s not linked to eating or drinking, Hall says. “In this way, weaning from the bottle can help your toddler to learn new ways to seek comfort when they are dealing with big feelings,” he says.
When To Start Bottle Weaning
Every child is different, but you can start weaning your child from the bottle anywhere between 9 to 12 months, says Nancy Miller, MD, a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The American Association of Pediatricians recommends that you wean before your child is 18 months old but “the sooner you do it, the less stubborn they’ll be,” says Danelle Fisher, MD, FAAP, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
How To Transition From Bottle To Cup
Going from a bottle to a cup doesn’t mean that you need to stop giving your child breast milk or formula, Fisher says—you can give them both in a sippy cup or cup with a straw. In fact, she recommends it. “A lot of families offer water in a sippy cup right away, and that can make the transition tougher,” she says. “Sometimes by doing the immediate step of just water, parents shoot themselves in the foot.”
There are plenty of options out there for toddler cups, but they largely fall into two camps: Sippy cups and ones with a straw. “Either is fine,” Woods says. But, he adds, if you notice that your child’s upper teeth are very arched, a cup with a straw might be a better option.
There are two main ways to weaning your child off of the bottle: gradual bottle weaning and cold turkey. For gradual bottle weaning, it’s usually best to cut out a bottle in the middle of the day, followed by the morning and then nighttime bottles, Miller says. Consistency is crucial. “Toddlers are programmed to explore and push their boundaries but they need consistent and predictable limits to help them feel secure,” Hall says. So, when your 15-month-old refuses the morning cup and cries for a bottle, say something like, “I know you want your bottle, but we use cups in the morning now, do you want your cup? No, okay, let’s go play then.” Show empathy, explain the choices and move on. “They will drink more next time, don’t worry,” Hall says.
If you decide to go cold turkey, Woods says it’s important to know that it might be tougher than a gradual wean. “Don’t be too disappointed if it’s unsuccessful at the first go,” he says. “Keep trying.”
The right way to bottle wean your child ultimately depends on his temperament and needs. “Just like everything in life, there’s more than one way to do it,” Fisher says.
Published April 2018