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When should a baby stop using a bottle?

Worried that your baby might drink from a bottle for the rest of their lives? Let’s put your mind at ease straight away:

Have you ever seen a middle-aged businessman walking around sipping a latte from a bottle? Or how about a teen Instagram influencer sucking from a plastic nipple mid-selfie? 

No. So eventually we all learn to drink beverages from normal cups. In saying that, the longer your child drinks from a bottle, the trickier it may be to pry it from their tiny, surprisingly strong grasp.

Let’s look at when and how to put an end to those bottle feedings.

Why do babies need to stop using bottles?

Just like boobs, bottles can be a source of comfort for babies. The sucking action is relaxing, and can sometimes put them off to sleep. (However, it’s not a great idea to put a baby to bed with a bottle. More on that below.)

While there are no hard and fast rules about bottle weaning, it’s good to know the risks associated with bottles for older babies and toddlers.

Too much liquid from a bottle, at the expense of solid foods, can be harmful to toddler feeding. For example, too much cow’s milk can fill their tummy up and lead to picky eating at mealtimes.

There could also be a link between prolonged bottle feeding and childhood obesity. One study found that prolonged bottle use (being fed primarily with bottles or being put to bed with a bottle) increased the risk of obesity by 33%

As with any attachment item (including that stuffed teddy you’ve never washed), the longer you put off starting to wean your baby from a bottle, the harder it may be to transition them to using a cup instead. That’s why it’s good to introduce your little one to drinking from a cup earlier rather than later.

When to start sippy cup training

Experts recommend introducing a sippy cup at around six months of age, the same sort of time your baby starts learning to eat solids. This is also typically the age when babies can hold their own bottle, meaning they’ll be able to start learning to hold a cup on their own. 

It does not, however, mean that your six-month-old won’t douse themselves in liquid when handling a cup. (Has anyone else learned that the hard way?)

You can offer cool, boiled water from six months, and you can also offer breastmilk or formula from a cup to get your baby used to it. Once they’re 12 months old you can offer cow’s milk from the cup too.

When to stop bottles

Ideally, the bottle weaning process would be completed before your baby’s first birthday. The American Academy of Pediatrics says this: 

“At around 8 to 12 months, your baby will begin learning how to feed him or herself. This is a natural time to begin transitioning from a bottle to a cup.”

But if your toddler is still very much pro-bottle, don’t stress yourself out. It’s never too late to start weaning your baby or toddler off bottle feeds – just start when YOU feel ready.

How to wean baby off the bottle

When it comes to starting the transition from bottle to cup, there are two methods you can try:

Cold turkey

Just as it sounds, this involves stopping the bottle feeds suddenly, and hoping your little one takes to a cup straight away. This could (*will) lead to tantrums, but if you want it done fast, and you’re willing to ride out the related emotions toddlers tend to exhibit, it could be the way to go to get them weaned off the bottle.

Gradual bottle weaning

Alternatively, you could try a slow approach to weaning from the bottle, replacing one feed a day with a sippy cup to begin with. 

Start by replacing your morning bottle feed with a cup of water or milk at breakfast. Then switch your midday feed to a cup, and after a few days you can replace any evening bottles with cups too. Over time, you’ll turn your current formula or breastmilk feeding schedule into drinks offered with meals.

Baby’s first cup: What type is best?

There are HEAPS of sippy cup options out there. It’s overwhelming, actually. (Cups are one of those baby products that come in all sorts of architecturally designed shapes and aesthetically pleasing colors.)

When first introducing the cup, go for easy-grip handles that assist babies’ hold, and leak-free spouts. Once they’ve got the hang of it, it can be useful to teach them to use a strawed cup and to drink from a hard spout.

Some fancy training bottles replicate an open cup but restrict the liquid that can leak out (kind of like a coffee cup), which can be useful when teaching your child to drink from a spout rather than sucking a soft nipple. But after 18 months or so, or when your toddler is comfortable using an open cup, you can just let them go at it with normal cups. Expect mess. For that reason, and for safety, it’s best to supervise them while they drink.

So, long story short:

Offer a cup that your baby can handle and that they’ll drink from. It might be the sparkliest, most brightly colored, garish object you’ve ever seen, but if they drink from that instead of demanding a bottle, it’s a win.

Bottle weaning tips and tricks

  • Never put your baby to bed with a bottle of milk – This has been shown to increase the risk of obesity and tooth decay. A leak-free bottle of water may be suitable for a toddler overnight, but avoid milk in the bottle, or any other liquids. You can also protect their little teeth by following recommended oral care guidelines for babies and toddlers.

  • Try out different types of cups – Straws, sippy cups, open cups, green cups, red cups… Experiment and see what your child likes to drink from. (Hot tip: Cartoon characters can help. It’s not the first time you’ll call upon Elsa from Frozen.)

  • Offer praise for using a cup – Remember, your child is a GENIUS when they take a successful sip.

  • Show them how it’s done – It’s great to model excellent drinking skills yourself. (No, not wine!) Show your child how you take sips from a cup and encourage them to copy you. Hack: Teaching “cheers” can make drinking from a cup really fun.

  • Hide the bottle – Out of sight, out of mind! Put the bottle away so your baby can’t see it. They may cry for it for a while, but eventually they’ll forget about it altogether.

  • Only offer appropriate drinks – That means water or cow’s milk after 12 months. Avoid juice and other sugary drinks until your child is older.

You’ll find more helpful tips, high fives, and encouraging pats on the bum on Mumli, your pocket-sized personal assistant for all things motherhood – coming to your home screen soon. Join the waitlist now.

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