We've all heard the horror stories: The toddler (or older child) who can't—won't—give up her bottle. If you want to head off this battle, pay attention: It's better to start the process earlier rather than later. "It doesn't get any easier when a child gets older," says Laura Jana, M.D., a pediatrician in Omaha, Neb. "In fact, it can get much harder."
Why should you care if your baby gets maniacally attached to her baba? "Prolonged bathing of the teeth with any liquid other than water puts you at risk for tooth decay," Jana explains. But that's not all: The older a child gets and the more attached she is to her bottle, the more that ties into "habit drinking" and using the bottle for soothing. This could set her up for other problems, including childhood obesity.
Jana offers the following tips for avoiding the bottle battle:
- DON'T DELAY "Start the process when your child is at a receptive, open age," Jana suggests. "I recommend 6 or 9 months, when babies are already putting everything in their mouths." Ideally, aim to have your child completely off the bottle between 12 months and 15 months old.
- LET HER EXPLORE Give your child a small amount of breast milk or formula at mealtime. "Set out a few ounces of milk on her highchair table with meals," Jana advises. "This will help her start to make the connection that milk is for nutrition, not soothing."
- CHOOSE YOUR CUP Many parents transition to a sippy cup with handles, as it's easier for the child to grasp. If yours has a valve, try removing it so it's easier to get the fluid out. When your child has mastered it, put the valve back in. Experiment with different spouts to see which one your child prefers. "Or choose a cup with interchangeable, grow-with-me spout," Jana suggests. You can also wean your child straight to a regular cup, but prepare yourself for some spills.
- DON'T GO OVERBOARD If your baby hasn't mastered the cup, don't take her bottle away from her entirely. "You want to make sure she's getting the nutrition and fluids she needs," Jana says.
For more information on how to wean from breastfeeding, check out our tips on our How to Win at Weaning page. —Carole Anderson Lucia