Every Tuesday, we post tips to make family life easier, covering an array of topics from the kitchen, to parenting, to managing your household. Over the next few weeks our tips will focus on early childhood transitions, and how to make them as seamlessly as possible. Last week, we offered our best tips for getting rid of the pacifier. This week: saying goodbye to the bottle…
Transitions: Goodbye Bottle
Whether you breastfeed, bottle feed or do some combination of the two, at some point, your baby will transition to drinking from a cup. Most parents choose to make that transition with a sippy cup, out of convenience, portability and until your child is old enough to have fewer spills from a real cup.
Earlier is better
After seeing both my girls through many early childhood transitions, as well as observing my friends’ experiences, the earlier you introduce a sippy cup, the easier your transition will be. The older a baby gets, the more attached they become to objects. Instead of merely a feeding method, a bottle can become a soother, just like a pacifier or blanket, making the transition far more difficult.
So how early? I introduced a sippy cup with water when I introduced solid foods around 6 months. Notice, I say ‘introduced.’ I didn’t replace milk feedings with a sippy cup at 6 months, but at every solid feeding a put a sippy cup with water on their tray. Before a baby is 12 months old, solid foods are more about the sensory experience and socialization of food than calorie consumption. I view the introduction of the sippy cup with water at 6 months the same way. If you breastfeed, you may not use bottles at all. Debuting the sippy cup alongside the introduction of solid foods makes more sense than adding a bottle into the mix.
At first, they may do little more than play with it. That’s ok. They may tip it over, squeeze it, see that water comes out. They may bite on it. Given them a demonstration or two, and hand it back to them. Eventually, as with solid food, they will learn how to tilt it, suck on it, and drink from it.
Which sippy cup?
There are hundreds of sippy cups to choose from. I have a friend who has probably tried 20 different cups – the truth is they will learn to drink from just about any cup you offer, though it is easiest to pick one and use it consistently until they learn how to drink from it well. Big M took well to the NUK Silicone Spout Learner Cup.
It is a good cup to start with because the silicon spout is pliable, while still being spill-proof, and more like a bottle. The shape, however, is better for their teeth. We also liked the detachable handles. It was very easy for her to grab and manipulate, even at 6 months, and as she got older, we could remove them. When Big M became too distracted to nurse well at about 9 months old, I started pumping and bottle feeding her. I decided to try breastmilk from the sippy cup at about 10 months old, and she gave zero objection, and we packed up the bottles and never looked back!
As they get older, and particularly as they start cutting molars, they may spend more time chewing on these spouts than drinking from them. At this stage, I would encourage introducing either a straw cup or a hard spout cup. While Nuk sells silicone spout replacements for the cup above, they will chew threw them quickly. Most babies take fairly readily to straws, and breastfed babies have strong enough jaw muscles to drink from straw cups, even with no-leak valves very early.
You can teach babies to use a straw by first giving them water from a straw you hold – they are used to sucking to get milk, so as they suck on the straw, release your finger to let the liquid out. This will help them make the connection to suck on the straw to drink. M&M both like the Munchkin Click Lock Flip Straw Cup. Lil’ M still drinks from this cup exclusively at 17 months. They are easy to disassemble, all the parts are dishwasher safe and you can buy replacement straws. I also like that they come in packages with two different colors, which helps eliminate squabbling among the munchkins!
I finally got Big M to start drinking from a NUK Gerber Graduates Hard Spout Cup a few months ago at 3 years old. I like the hard spout cups because they teach toddlers how to tilt the cup and more closely resemble the action of drinking from a real glass. At preschool they only give cups for snack, and she often ends up with more in her lap than her mouth. We are still working on that one with her!
UPDATE: Lil’ M has finally cracked the code on hard spouts just before 2, but I’m looking forward to a day in the not too distant future when I can say farewell to all these plastic pieces for good!
What if I waited too long?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends weaning from a bottle before 18 months of age. Beyond that point, bottles can lead to tooth decay, and if used as a soother, lead to consumption of more milk than is necessary. The longer you wait, the more difficult the transition will be. Since at an older age, the bottle is often being used as a soother, it makes sense to follow the same tips we offered for transitioning from the pacifier:
Ease the transition.
At no age should children be left to go to sleep with a bottle, but if that is your sleep routine, transition away from that first. Introduce the sippy or straw cup for water. Once they master how to use it, you know they are capable of drinking milk from it (even if they refuse – which is often the case at first).
Talk about it.
Talk about how bottles are not good for their teeth, and how big kids use big kid cups. Set a date together that will be the last day for bottles. Get a box, and have your toddler help pack them up and wave goodbye as the garbage man takes them away (even if they are in your attic waiting for the next baby!).
Say goodbye, and don’t look back.
The older the child, the more reluctant they may be to drink from a sippy cup, especially to drink milk from the sippy cup. The good news is, if you followed the steps above, you know they are capable of it. Do not show any signs of wavering – they will drink when they are thirsty. If you cave just once, the transition will be even more difficult.
Goodbye bottles. Goodbye binkies. Next week? Goodbye crib. That one may be more painful for you than for them! What has been your most difficult early childhood transition yet? If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all the posts in our Early Childhood Transition series. You can also find them on our Parenting Tips board on Pinterest.