Helping Your Toddler Give Up the Bottle

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 between 12 and 24 months of age. Like so many aspects of a child's development, it's important to look at your child as an individual. General guidelines can helpful, but when within that time period your child weans is unique to them.

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 imbalanced nutrition as milk replaces other foods in your child's diet. And if milk is replacing a variety of foods, your child isn't getting exposure to the flavors and textures that can help expand their palate. So helping your child get to the point where they are ready to say "bye-bye, bottle" is important.

When to Start

Although many parents don't 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. It can be a really good time for a baby to experiment. Just remember that if you put water in the cup for them to sip with a meal, it's just for practice. The majority of their fluid intake should still come from breast milk or formula.

The most important sign of readiness for a cup is being able to sit up straight. If your child has strong motor skills and is already holding a bottle on their own, they may be more likely to take to the cup right away, but those skills aren't necessary to start.

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 they are ready to drop the bottle all at once.

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 they get used to it.

Next, replace a bottle for a straw cup once a day for a week and slowly build up to replace all daytime beverages with cups. Your baby doesn't need to be able to drink out of an open cup al by themselves to transition to a straw cup. They just need to be able to swallow a small amount of water from an open cup.

Remove bottles from view so your child won't ask for them in place of the cup. Consider getting a straw cup that features one of your child's favorite animals or characters. If your child is older, you can try explaining that it's time to say goodbye to the bottles. Have your child help you pack them up and send them away. This can help with 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, along with figuring out what the bottle offers (comfort, for example) and offering that in another way (such as with extra cuddles or stories). Remember, each child is different.

Creating a bedtime routine with stories, snuggles, and a lovey can build a warm, comforting ritual 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 offer straw cups for instances when you need to avoid big messes (like in the car).

Use a cup for liquids, including milk, as soon as your child is developmentally ready. Incorporate a straw cup or open cup with meals to help kids learn to sip along with their food. Having children sit or stand in one place to drink also establishes a more mindful habit and can reduce injuries caused by falling with a bottle or cup at their mouth.

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