Were you making a bottle recently and thought to yourself “Does my child still need to drink out of a bottle?”
Do you think your child might be too old to be still drinking from a bottle, but are having a difficult time getting them to accept a sippy cup?
Prolonged bottle feeding can pose risks and make weaning more difficult. But how do you know when your baby is ready to start transitioning from the bottle and how do you make this process as stress-free as possible?
In this article, we will discuss the risks associated with prolonged bottle use, when you should start booting the bottle, and tips to ease the transition.
Reasons to Stop Bottle Feeding
A bottle may seem harmless (I mean it delivers nutrition to your baby, so how bad can it be?), but prolonged bottle feeding poses some health risks for children.
- Increased risk of tooth decay: Nursing on a bottle nipple throughout the day means prolonged contact with milk or juice, which can lead to cavities and tooth decay (1). Giving a bedtime bottle without brushing your baby’s teeth afterward is the biggest culprit for “bottle tooth decay.” The milk pools up and will sit and “eat” on the teeth all night.
- Prolonged use linked to obesity: Babies and toddlers tend to drink more milk from a bottle than a sippy cup, and toddlers shouldn’t get more than 16-24oz. of milk daily. Bottles can also become a comfort measure for both babies and caretakers, as it’s often instinct to offer your baby a bottle when they start crying. But milk has the same amount of calories as food does, so this calorie-dense comfort measure can quickly lead to weight gain and even obesity.
- Iron deficiency anemia: Cow’s milk can block the absorption of iron by the body. So if your child is drinking too much milk, as happens with prolonged bottle use, some of the iron they eat isn’t going to be able to be utilized by their body to help them grow and develop (2).
- Could mess with their smile: Recent studies show that babies who are bottle-fed are twice as likely to have crooked teeth. The way babies suck on bottles can affect the development of their muscles, mouth, and palate, which in turn could affect teeth and jaw alignment.
When Should Bottle Feeding Stop?
The longer you wait to boot the bottle, the tougher it will be for your child to let go, as they become more independent and stubborn. It will also cause more stress and chaos for you.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends starting weaning from the bottle by 12 months of age and for bottles to be completely phased out by 24 months (3). However, the earlier they are phased out, the better.
It’s best to introduce a sippy cup around six to nine months. Start by offering your baby expressed breast milk, formula, or one to two oz. of water in a sippy cup with their meals. It may take them a few weeks or even a month to get the hang of the sippy.
When your little one is closer to a year and has got the sippy cup all figured out, start the weaning process by replacing one regular bottle feeding a day with a sippy. One year is a great time to make the switch, because you’ll also be starting to switch from formula to milk.
How to Stop Bottle Feeding
Booting the bottle can be a difficult and stressful time for both you and your baby. Here are some tips to make the transition smoother and more enjoyable for everyone involved.
- Time it right: Make sure there aren’t any stressful events about to take place when starting the transition. Events, such as, a move, the birth of a sibling, or a big family vacation, could be too much for your little one and she may start to feel insecure and cling back to familiar objects or routines.
- Let them choose: Make the transition a special occasion of its own, and take your toddler to the store with you and let them pick out their own cups. You can also let them pick out which cup they want to use at each feeding.
- Eliminate gradually: Introduce the sippy cup with meals around 6-9 months of age. Once they have the sippy cup down pat, start the transition by replacing one regular bottle feeding a day with a cup. Do that for about 3 days and then add on another feeding with a sippy replacement. Continue this process until all feedings are with sippys instead of bottles. Babies and toddlers tend to be more clingy in the mornings and at bedtime, so it’s best to save those feedings for last.
- Go cold turkey: For some children, the gradual elimination simply won’t work, and you may have to try going cold turkey. All children are different, and you have to figure out what works best for yours.
- Use a sippy cup with a hard spout or straw: Dentists recommend using sippys with a hard spout or straw rather than ones that have soft spouts. Using a hard spout or straw won’t only benefit their teeth, but will also make the transition less confusing. You could also go straight to an open cup, like the Babycup or BabyBjorn Cup.
- Have a comfort replacement: If your child’s bottle is a comfort measure for them, try finding a security replacement for them, such as a blanket, doll, or stuffed animal. Talk to them and try to figure out if they are truly hungry or if something else is wrong. Offer lots of hugs, cuddles, and distractions when they are upset.
- Dilute milk in the bottle: If your little one is having a hard time letting go of the bottle, you could try diluting the milk with half water. Then gradually increase the amount of water in the bottle as the days pass until it’s just water. It’s highly likely that your little will become less interested and will start asking for the sippy cup with the yummy milk in it.
- Offer praise: Give praise and positive reinforcement to your child when they use their cup instead of the bottle. Tell them “Great job,” “What a big boy you are,” and “You drank out of a cup, just like mommy!” You could even give them stickers to make the sippy cup more enticing.
- Out of sight, out of mind: When you’re weaning, hide all other bottles out of sight, so your little will be less apt to ask for one. When she is completely transitioned, you can either keep all the bottles hidden until your next baby is here, or you can throw a little celebration and have your toddler help you get rid of them. Explain to her that she is a “big girl” now and that she doesn’t need them anymore.
Ditching The Bottle Without Tears
Getting your little to let go of the bottle can be difficult, but it’s essential to wean them off completely by 24 months to avoid obesity, iron deficiency, tooth decay, cavities, and other dental problems.
Introduce a sippy with meals around six to nine months, and start replacing regular bottle feedings with sippys around their first birthday.
Help make the transition smoother for your little by timing it right, letting them pick out their cups, diluting milk in the bottle, offering praise and alternative forms of comfort, and keeping bottles out of sight.