As your baby nears his or her first birthday, it may be time to switch from a bottle to a cup. There are lots of ways to make this transition smooth and painless for both of you. Like many milestones, it's all about proper timing and gradual changes.
Switch to a Cup Around Age One
According to KidsHealth, the optimal time for making the change is around the first birthday. Before this age, babies are getting formula or breastmilk in bottles and relying on them for a large part of their nutritional needs. After age one, you run the risk of your toddler forming a strong emotional attachment to the bottle.
However, the guideline for switching at 12 months is not a hard and fast rule. Every baby is different, and you know your baby best. Look for signs that she is ready, and if you're not seeing them, consider consulting with your pediatrician and waiting a bit longer. If your little one is ready to make the switch, you may notice her spitting out the nipple during bottle feeding or showing interest in drinking from a cup.
How to Make the Switch
The general process for bottle weaning is all about gentle, gradual changes. Don't expect to do this in a day or a week. It may take a month or even several months, but your little one will make the switch with your help.
- Around six months, introduce an age-appropriate trainer or sippy cup. What To Expect recommends one with handles that are easy for a baby to grasp. Make the sippy cup part of mealtimes that involve solid food, and gradually allow solid food to become your baby's main source of nutrition.
- As you approach your baby's first birthday, he should be getting most of his calories from solids. Slowly drop bottle feedings to only first thing in the morning, before naps, and before bedtime.
- At around 12 months, start reducing bottle feedings. Drop the morning feeding first. Baby is excited to start the day, and may not notice if you skip this bottle and go right to breakfast.
- Next, drop the before-nap feedings. These will be a bit more challenging because they are part of the wind-down for your baby. If your baby shows resistance to giving up the bottle at this point, put water in the bottle instead of milk or formula or reduce the amount of milk in the bottle each day.
- Finally, drop the bedtime feeding. This is the hardest one to give up because it's often part of the bedtime routine. Start by changing the order of the routine, such as doing the bottle before bathtime. Make sure your baby is not hungry before you begin the bedtime activities. You may need to gradually reduce the amount of milk or switch to water to help this transition go smoothly.
Age-related guidelines and processes are fantastic, but anyone who has been parenting for a while knows things rarely go exactly as planned. It helps to have a few handy tips in your back pocket to pull out if the going gets rough:
- Know when not to make the switch. Timing is very important, and if your baby has been sick or is teething, the bottle can provide some much-needed soothing. The same is true if there's been a big family change, such as a move. Wean from the bottle when things are as calm as possible in your little one's life.
- Talk about how babies use bottles and big kids use cups. Even if your baby can't talk yet, he or she can understand a lot of what you are saying. Your little one wants to be a big kid, and he or she may decide it's worth giving up the bottle to get there.
- Make sure you keep bottle feedings separate from other activities. Don't let your baby wander around with a bottle, use one in the car, or sleep with one. If bottle feedings are just for eating, they become less attractive to a baby intent on exploring the bigger world.
- Change what is in the bottle to something less comforting and attractive than breast milk or formula. Move the milk or formula to the sippy cup and fill the bottle with water.
- Add a new element to your bedtime routine to replace the bottle. Try a little massage, a second book, some extra hugs, or anything else your baby will find comforting. That way, the bottle isn't just a loss to your baby; it also comes with something new.
Follow Your Instincts
Weaning from the bottle can be challenging, but it doesn't have to be sad or distressing for your baby. Take your time and follow your own instincts, and your little one will soon be exclusively using a cup.