Start giving baby a sippy cup early — at about six months — with some breast milk, formula or water in it. Even though baby may not get the hang of it right away, it’s still a good idea to introduce it so early. That way, baby has a chance to get used to it for a while before you make the switch away from bottles completely.
You’ll want to aim to stop using bottles by the time baby’s 12 to 18 months old. That’s the age range when children are developmentally ready to be off bottles — their grasp and coordination should be good enough to hold a cup and bring it to their mouth — and most pediatricians say to wean off the bottle by age two at the very latest. Besides getting disapproving looks from other moms, there are several reasons why you don’t want your child on the bottle after that. For one, toddlers tend to drink more milk from bottles than they do from sippy cups, and that can put your child at risk for health problems such as iron deficiency anemia, since drinking too much milk can inhibit iron absorption. Also, parents tend to get into a routine in which they give their children bottles of milk at bedtime, and it’s bad for baby’s teeth to be bathing in milk all night; the sugars in it can lead to tooth decay. In addition, if kids walk around with bottles (or pacifiers) in their mouth all the time, that can also change the alignment of their teeth so that they push forward more (but that doesn’t happen to all children).
There are also practical reasons to wean away from bottles. It’s easier for travel, since you find straw cups in restaurants while you’re out and about anyhow, and your child will already be used to them. A lot of speech therapists recommend straw cups too, since they may be better for the mouth muscles.
Make sure you choose a sippy cup with packaging that says it’s BPA-free — luckily, most on the market now are. Some children do better with a hard spout, others do better with a soft spout, and some find the hourglass-shaped ones easier to grasp, so you might need to do some trial and error to see what works best for your child. Make it more fun by buying one with pictures of their favorite character, or personalize it with photos of your family (there are special cups for that!).
Don’t worry if baby doesn’t take to the sippy right away — keep trying, and she’ll figure it out. If she’s really having trouble, try taking the spill-proof valve out of her cup until she gets used to it. Sure, you might end up cleaning up a lot of spilled milk, but the easy flow will give her incentive to drink from it. Once she gets the hang of it, you can put the valve back in.
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