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Bottle Weaning 101: What to Know Before You Begin

By Erin Ollila

Now that your little one is getting older, your pediatrician and other friends and family have suggested weaning them off the bottle. If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a guide that will explain why they’re suggesting it, and how you can go about doing it.

Wait, Why Would Anyone Want to Wean Off Bottles?

Bottles are one of the most important baby tools parents can have. Without them, feeding would be a lot more slow, complicated, and difficult — for both babies and parents. But at some point, babies need to learn how to drink from containers other than bottles for two reasons.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) explains: “Prolonged bottle use can cause tooth decay and may encourage your child to drink much more milk than he needs.”

When Can Babies Wean Off the Bottle?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends weaning babies off of bottles before they are 18 months old. However, that doesn’t mean you should wait that long. The weaning process can begin earlier, and most pediatricians will recommend the change is made before your little one’s first birthday.

The University of California San Francisco’s Benioff Children’s Hospital suggests that babies wean from a bottle when they are able to sit up, eat from a spoon, shows an increased interest in solid foods, and has mostly established mealtimes.

What Gets Weaned

Some parents are uninterested in weaning from the bottle because they want to continue breastfeeding or giving their baby formula. That’s okay!

Breastfeeding can be continued for as long as you’d like. If you’re pumping and feeding breast milk at certain points of the day from a bottle, your baby can still drink it from another container, such as a sippy cup.

Same goes for formula, although your pediatrician will likely recommend transitioning from formula to cow’s milk after your little one’s first birthday.

Mom of two Angie Vargas Martin, says, “I started giving my kids water in a sippy cup before they turned one. They drank their milk out of a bottle, but the sippy cups I used had silicone ‘nipples’ so to speak. Then when they turned one, I literally stopped using bottles 100% cold turkey. No one complained.”

How to Wean Your Baby from the Bottle

Be Consistent
Once you’ve determined how you’ll wean your baby, stay consistent with that method. Your little one needs your help with consistency. It’s also important that all the key figures involved work as a consistent team, too. Mom, Dad, older siblings, grandparents, the nanny, or any other childcare providers must all know the exact plan and vow to follow it.

Transition to Different Cups
One of the easiest ways to wean from a bottle is to introduce new drinking containers. It might take some trial and error to find a new cup that your baby likes, but it’s worth trying different options until you find the best one for your baby.

Mom of two Leanne Soares says, “Although we were lucky enough for my kids to make the transition from breast to bottle very easily, it took us a bit to find the right sippy cup. My son was much easier to transition. He went to a straw sippy off the bat. My daughter liked the nipple style sippy more.”

Gradually Phase Out Bottles
Once your little one is able to drink from different bottles, it’s time to begin replacing certain feedings with a healthy snack or a beverage, such as water, formula, breast milk, or cow’s milk (depending on the baby’s age) in the new drinking container.

Once one bottle feed has been successfully phased out, continue to remove one at a time until the rest of the feedings have been transitioned away from the bottle.

Water Down the Bottle
Some parents will suggest watering down the bottles of milk (gradually until they eventually contain just water). The idea here is that your little one will lose interest and eventually prefer (and ask for!) milk that comes in a cup. However, to do this successfully, you must still give your child undiluted milk or formula in a cup so they continue to get all the nutrients their growing body needs. If you have an on-the-go baby, these double feedings might be impossible to maintain, and this process might take longer.

Keep the Nighttime Bottle (Temporarily)
AAP says, “Save the bedtime bottle for last, since it’s often the most difficult for your child to give up.” As these bottles are often associated with calming and sleep, it’s understandable that your little one would have a hard time letting go of their nighttime bottle. So, don’t stress about removing this one out of the gate. You’ll get there.

Involve Your Child
Give your little one a voice in the matter — even if he or she isn’t really doing any talking yet. Let your baby help you pick out their new cups or fun straws. Explain in a calm, upbeat voice what you’re doing. Most importantly, praise your baby for learning how to drink out of the cup!

Finally, it’s important to offer extra support and cuddles to your little one when you’re weaning them from the bottle. After so many months of using a bottle, this is one of their first major transitions!

Erin Ollila studies the human perspective, and likes to consider herself an emotional archeologist. After receiving her MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University, she launched a digital marketing career focusing on the business owner, employee, and customer experiences. When she's not writing or strategizing for big brands and small businesses, you can find her enjoying family time in southeastern MA with her husband and three children — all of whom are in different age groups (13, 4, and almost one. Oh my!)

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