Infants: When Should I Discontinue Bottle Feeding My Baby?
It is normal to ask when it is time to “stop the bottle” or discontinue bottle-feeding for your child. This is especially true of parents and caregivers notice that a toddler has become attached to the bottle. The reason for this attachment is that from early infancy, babies learn to associate the bottle with nourishment, comfort, familiarity, and security.
Experts recommend that parents begin to wean children off the bottle at the end of the first year. During weaning, parents and caregivers should make the effort to help children feel comfortable drinking from cups. Allowing a child to use a bottle for longer than this period can lead to a host of other issues, including problems with future dental alignment and weight gain.
How Do I Begin Switching From Bottle to Cup?
Many pediatricians recommend introducing a cup for the first time when your baby is about 6 months old. Allow the baby to become familiar with grasping the handles and lifting the cup. Keep in mind that much of what is in the cup is likely to end on the high-chair tray or floor while your baby learns how to use this type of container.
By 12 months old, most babies build the fine-motor and coordination skills required to hold a baby cup and drink from it. This is also the age that pediatricians recommend switching from formula to cow’s milk, making it a natural transition to start serving “regular” milk in a cup instead of a bottle. (If you are breastfeeding, it is okay to continue offering breastmilk, but you may wish to start providing it in a cup instead.)
What is the Recommended Schedule for Transitioning from Bottle to Cup?
Transitioning from the bottle to a cup should be gradual and positive. Rather than stopping bottle use all at one, try phasing them out of the feeding schedule one at a time.
For instance, if your baby takes three bottles a day, begin eliminating the morning bottle first. Guide your baby to the table and after feeding has begun, offer the milk in a cup. Provide positive reinforcement that your child is a “big boy or girl” who can drink from a cup “just like mommy or daddy.”
When you stop the morning bottle, you can continue to give the afternoon and evening bottle over the next week. This way, if you child requests the bottle, you can reply that one is coming later.
In following week, try eliminating another bottle and serve from a cup instead. Serve the cup while your child sits in a high chair to make drinking easier.
The last eliminated bottle is usually the nighttime bottle. Since many babies associate this bottle with security and routine, it gets eliminate after they have begun to get used to the idea of drinking from a cup. Eliminate the bottle by offering milk in a cup during dinner like a “big boy or girl.” Remain consistent with the rest of the nighttime routine (such as same bath, teeth brushing, bedtime story, baby blanket, and teddy bear).
What are Other Strategies for Switching from Bottle to Cup?
Other tips for switching from bottle to cup include the following:
- Try using a spill-proof or “sippy” cup to make the shift from bottle to cup easier. Pediatric dentists recommend buying a sippy cup that has a hard spout or straw (instead of sippy cups with softer spouts).
- Offer praise and positive reinforcement whenever your child uses the cup.
- If the child keeps asking for a bottle, identify the core need behind the request and provide that instead. For instance, if the baby is hungry or thirsty, provide food or drink on a plate or in the cup. For comfort, offer hugs. If the child is bored, sit down to read or play.
- While weaning off the bottle, you can also begin diluting the milk in the bottle with water. During the first few days, dilute half of the afternoon/evening bottles with water. Then gradually replace the milk with more water until the entire bottle is water. Soon your child will lose interest in the water and start requesting the cup that he or she knows contain milk.
- During weaning period, store bottles away and keep them out of the child’s line of sight.
Why Does a Toddler Need to Stop Bottle Feeding?
Since babies associate bottles with comfort and security, why do we need to stop discontinue bottle-feeding at one year of age? Pediatricians offer several reasons:
- Prolonged bottle use can lead to tooth decay. For example, falling asleep while drinking at night allows milk to collect in the mouth and create an acidic film over the teeth, resulting in cavities.
- Prolonged bottle use can impact adult teeth and development of facial muscles later.
- Excessive bottle use can mean that a toddler takes in more calories than necessary, increasing the chance of pediatric obesity.
- Excessive bottle use can also increase the chances of throat and ear infections (from the milk and saliva mixture that collects at the base of the baby’s neck while drinking)
- Bottle use can interfere with the toddler’s introduction to solid foods and textures, thereby compromising their nutrient intake. This is the time to introduce solid and semi-solid foods like cereal and pureed vegetables for healthy child development.
Contact your pediatrician if you have questions or concerns about discontinuing use of bottles. There may also be self-help therapy available for children struggling to make the transition.