How to wean your toddler off a bottle
Both parents and tots can use bottles as soothing tools – but we’ll show you how to say bye-bye to the bottle (no tears, we promise!)
You’ve probably noticed by now that when it comes to your tot and his bottle, not much comes between them. Bottles provide little ones with comfort and security – they signify not just nourishment, but usually time spent with their mama or papa, safely cuddled in their arms. With this in mind, is it any wonder that some tots find it so difficult to give up their beloved bottle?
Still, it is important you wean your baby off a bottle. The ideal age, say most pediatricians, seems to be nine months – when your baby is old enough to understand the transition, but young enough to let it go without too much fuss. Prolonged bottle drinking can cause tooth decay, as toddlers tend to move around and sip “on the go”, rather than babies, who will sit and drink, and have a definite start and end time. This means that toddlers with bottles can potentially be coating their teeth constantly with liquid – and if it’s not water, it’ll contain acid, which can lead to cavities. What’s more, bottle drinkers tend to drink more than they really need, causing them to miss out on other vital nutrients at proper mealtimes, as they’re too full to eat.
Is your tot ready for a sippy cup?
Quick test. Can your baby sit up by herself? Hold her head up without help? Open her mouth for a spoon? If she can do all three, she’s ready for a sippy cup. Congrats, mama.
Slowly does it vs cold turkey
For most tots, a gradual approach to weaning works well. First up, do a “show and tell” to demonstrate to your toddler how the sippy cup works. Show her what it’s meant to do by dribbling some liquid onto her lips, so she understands that it’s for drinking. You could also give her a sippy cup to play with in the bath or at another time, so she becomes familiar with it over time and doesn’t see the sippy cup as a “competitor” to the bottle.
Replace one feed a day with a sippy cup, gradually increasing the number of feeds you replace, until all drinks are taken from a sippy cup. You can make the process easier on your tot by mimicking bottle feeding with a sippy cup. For instance, feed her in the same place you would if you were feeding from a bottle, and cuddle her just as you would if you were offering her the bottle. Experts say this usually makes the transition a lot easier. When your tot is completely done with the bottle, make a big show of saying “bye-bye” to it together, and making a fuss over the fact that she’s a big girl now.
For babies who are very attached to their bottles, the gradual approach is sometimes too traumatic, and going cold turkey is usually best. So, a week or so before you are ready to get rid of the bottle, tell your tot he’s “so big, he doesn’t need a bottle any more.” Make a big fuss over what a big boy he is, and how grown up he is now. If he has an older sibling, compare him to the sibling, to emphasize the point. Then, remind him every day of how big he is, and how he won’t need a bottle soon. Let your child be active in the process of saying goodbye to the bottle – tell him he can choose a sippy cup himself, or let him choose a healthy snack to replace a bottle feed. If your child uses bottles to self-soothe, make sure his teddy (or other security item) is close by when it’s time for his usual feeds. When it’s D-Day, make a big deal of saying goodbye to the bottle together, and congratulate him for being so grown-up.
Then congratulate yourself – you did it!