Weaning off the Bottle
By Deirdre Wilson

Many parents start to wean their babies from the breast or bottle to a cup at about 1 year of age. But it isn’t always easy, and it isn’t an overnight process. Ever see a toddler walking around with a bottle hanging out of his mouth? He’s not drinking from it – there’s something else going on there.

Veteran pediatricians like T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and William Sears, M.D., say babies and toddlers can become attached to their bottles as comfort objects. And that can make weaning to a cup doubly hard.

Still, weaning isn’t something you want to rush – it will happen when your baby is ready for it to happen. You can usually start to wean to a cup when your baby starts feeding herself more often.

Signs that she’s ready include:

• looking around while breastfeeding or drinking from a bottle;

• mouthing the nipple without sucking; and

• attempting to slide off your lap before finishing nursing or drinking from a bottle.

When weaning, use a trainer cup with two handles and a snap-on lid with a spout. It could take up to six months before your baby is willing to drink all of his water, juice or milk from a cup. He may treat the cup as a toy or dribble a lot of the liquid at first, or even leave quite a bit still in the cup.

Pediatricians recommend a gradual approach: First, substitute a cup for the bottle or breast at the midday feeding. Once the baby adjusts, use the cup at the morning feeding, and so on.

Switch to a cup for the bedtime feeding only after the baby is accustomed to it at other feedings; the bottle or breast are sources of nighttime comfort and she won’t give them up so easily. Try to introduce other comfort objects, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, and try not to let your baby fall asleep with a bottle in her mouth.

A baby who continues to drink from bottles at night or at naptime beyond 18 months to 2 years can risk tooth decay, particularly if he falls asleep with the bottle in his mouth and un-swallowed milk remains on his teeth. Drinking from a bottle after age 2 can also start reshaping the upper gum line and palate, which can lead to an overbite.

Deirdre Wilson is senior editor at Dominion Parenting Media
July 2008