Helping Your Toddler Give Up the Bottle

Tips on Weaning and Transitioning to Cups

Father with toddler in the kitchen

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that parents wean their children off the bottle completely by 15 to 18 months of age. And, to be honest, it's not appropriate to set solid general deadlines for milestones such as weaning.

That's not to say there isn't a good reason for phasing bottles out in your child's second year. Research shows that prolonged use of bottles can cause tooth decay. Using bottles may also lead toddlers to drink too much milk, which can lead to excessive weight or imbalanced nutrition as milk replaces other foods in your child's diet. So helping your child get to the point where he's ready to say "bye-bye, bottle" is important. But how do you do it?

When to Start

Although many parents don't think to offer a cup until after their child's first birthday, the truth is that you can introduce a cup (with or without a lid) in the second half of the first year. The most important sign of readiness is being able to sit up straight. If your child has strong motor skills and is already holding a bottle on his own, he may be more likely to take to the cup right away, but those skills aren't necessary to start. As you begin introducing a cup, it is fine to hold your child and hold the cup to her mouth as you slowly offer small sips.

How to Phase Out Bottles

There are two common ways to transition a child from a bottle to cup. Which approach you take depends on your child's attachment to the bottle and whether or not you feel that she is ready to go cold turkey.

For the Let's-Go-Slow Kid

Introduce a cup as a supplemental source of liquids for several days. Offer a little bit of water and allow your child to play with the empty cup as he gets used to it.

Next, replace a bottle for a sippy cup once a day for a week and slowly build up to replace all daytime beverages with sippy cups.

Remove bottles from view so your child won't ask for it in place of the cup. If your child is older, you can try explaining to her that it's time to say goodbye to the bottles. Have her help you pack them up and "send" them away. This can help her prepare for the transition.

Nighttime can be a challenge for a child who is very attached to the bottle. The key to helping your child drop the bedtime bottle is consistency.

Once you make the decision to try and replace that bedtime drink with a cup, don't go back. Even if he rejects the cup and cries for the bottle, you should avoid giving a bottle or it will confuse him and make it harder to get him to give it up in the long run.

Creating a new bedtime routine with stories, extra cuddles, and a new lovey can build a warm, comforting environment that makes the transition easier for your child.

For the Ready-to-Go-What's-Next Kid

By 12 months, many toddlers will have no problem relinquishing the bottle. If your child takes to the cup from the start, consider taking a few extra steps. Introduce an open cup as early as possible and reserve sippy cups for instances when you need to avoid big messes (like in the car).

Use a cup for all liquids, including milk, right away. An important thing to consider is that you don't just want to replace a bottle and any bad bottle habits that may have developed for a sippy cup with all the same bad habits. Research shows that toddlers who use sippy cups (or bottles for that matter) may be at risk for injury mostly due to falls that occur while kids are walking or running with the bottle or cup in their mouth.

You should also be sure that you're only giving your child a drink when she's really thirsty or with a meal and know how much milk toddlers need as they get older. Letting a toddler hold onto a sippy cup all day can be just as harmful as prolonged use of bottles, leading to over drinking that makes her less likely to eat nutritious food and more likely to develop tooth decay.

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