Parents have been asking me a mouthful of questions about when and how they can wean their child from a bottle.  Well, let me see if I can suck-up some of those concerns and provide some information on this topic.

When a baby is a year old, they usually have the dexterity and coordination to hold a cup and drink from it, which makes this a good time for a transition. If you are still breastfeeding, this does not mean you should stop but begin to offer other liquids like water in a cup. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends weaning all bottle-fed infants completely by 15 months to prevent tooth decay that can be caused by too much contact with beverages that contain sugar like milk or juice – such as when and if your child falls asleep with a bottle in his or her mouth.

What’s the best way to do this?  Well, it’s been found not to be a good idea to cut-off a child cold turkey.  Instead, gradually eliminate bottles at mealtimes. If your older infant/toddler takes three bottles a day, start by removing the midday bottle and offer milk or water from a sippy cup that has a snap-on lid so there is less spilling. It’s OK as you do this to tell your toddler that they’re getting to be a big boy or girl and compliment them on using a cup like mommy or daddy. A few days or a week later eliminate the morning bottle.

The night time bottle is usually the one your baby associates with the bedtime comforting routine, so you may need to add a new healthy snack and perhaps a new stuffed animal for comfort purposes as the bottle goes away while you maintain the rest of your bedtime routine.

If your child does use the cup, praise them and even consider calling friends or relatives to let them know you have done this.  If they still ask for a bottle, try to figure out if it’s because they’re hungry or thirsty, or if what they really need is to be comforted. They might simply be bored and want some attention, which need not be satisfied with a bottle.

Here are some other tricks from parents:

  •  Dilute the milk in the bottle with water to make it less and less flavorful and put the good tasting full strength milk into a cup.
  •  Wrap-up the bottles and give them to a new baby in the neighborhood in exchange for a gift from that family to your “big boy or girl” (but let the family getting the bottles know that’s what you’re doing so they’re not surprised to get your bottle collection).

If none of these suggestions work, often seeing other children their age drinking from cups is all it takes for your child to realize this is the preferred behavior as they get older.  Be reassured that you don’t see kids in school drinking from baby bottles – although they do use water bottles.

Hopefully, tips like this will fill your cup with hope and bottle up your frustrations when it comes to getting your older infant and/or toddler to wean from a bottle to a cup.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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