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Toddlers become quite attached to their bottles. They use it for comfort, security, and nourishment. Therefore getting them to make the transition from a bottle to a sippy cup can be more challenging than we initially thought.
Here’s the catch: toddlers aren’t the only ones who resist this natural transition. Sometimes, parents play an equal part in this emotionally challenging process.
The mama bear in you will instinctively come to the rescue when anything is uncomfortable or upsets your little one. While the process may be hard for both of you, it’s a necessary transition that your child needs to healthily move to the next stage of life.
Why Is It Important To Wean Your Toddler off the Bottle?
Prolonged Use Can Lead To Tooth Decay
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making the switch from bottle to cup at around 12 to 18 months. Since toddlers have a habit of drinking milk at night and falling asleep without brushing their teeth, using the bottle for longer than necessary can lead to “bottle tooth decay”. When your child is asleep, the production of saliva slows down and the milk doesn’t get washed away as it should. This creates an acidic layer on the tooth's enamel which increases toddlers’ risk for tooth decay.
Can Make Your Toddler a Picky Eater
At the age of 12 months, toddlers should eat a variety of foods from the family menu and no longer based their diet on liquids as they did in the first year. If you give them a choice they may prefer and reject other nutritious age-appropriate meals.
May Make Them Anemic
Milk has no iron. This means increased milk intake isn’t doing much to meet all your toddler’s nutritional needs. In fact, the calcium in cow milk tends to block the absorption of iron by the body, further increasing the extent of iron deficiency.
How does this happen? If children drink too much cow’s milk, you may notice reduced growth in their bodies. Even if they’re eating veggies and fruits, they aren’t able to utilize most of the iron they consume. This can contribute to anemia.
Can Lead To Infections
When your child lies down to drink milk from a bottle, the liquid pools at the base of the throat. The milk can then travel through the tube that connects the throat to the middle ear. This can potentially become a breeding ground for bacteria which can result in an ear or throat infection.
As you can see, there are many good reasons to wean children off the bottle at the appropriate time. Now that we know why it’s important to do so, it’s time to explore how you can wean your toddler from bottle-feeding.
How Do I Break My Toddler's Bottle Habit?
Breaking your toddler's bottle habit can be challenging but it can be done in a way that entails minimal stress for you both. Employing these tips and tricks may help discourage children from drinking from the bottle and direct their attention towards a more attractive option — the cup.
Reduce the Number of Bottle-feedings
Going from bottle to sippy cup doesn’t have to happen all at once. You can make the transition gradually. It may take time but it usually produces better results than withholding the bottle in one go.
Here’s an example of how you can introduce the change slowly: if your baby drinks from the bottle 2 times a day, start by eliminating the afternoon bottle and replacing it with table food.
Remember, nighttime bottle feeding should be the last to go since it offers the most comfort and security to your baby. Evening bottles should be followed by tooth brushing so gradually they will become less comfortable and fun time. As you make progress with the weaning-off process, you may come to a point where you will be able to eliminate bedtime feeding without much fanfare.
Dilute the Milk With Water
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Start with a 50:50 ratio of milk to water. Slowly but steadily increase the ratio of water until the bottle is all water. This will make bottled milk unappealing to your toddler and your child will naturally gravitate towards tastier whole milk from the cup.
Be Encouraging and Use Positive Reinforcement
Praise your child and show him or her with love, hugs, and attention as they make the switch. Try saying things like, “you’re a big boy/girl now so you can use a cup-like mommy,” or “you’re a big kid now, don’t you want to try drinking from the cup-like mommy?” This will prepare your toddler for the change.
Toddlers tend to repeat actions that make their parents happy. This need to please will work in your favor when you’re weaning them off bottle-feeding. So praise your toddler every time he or she drinks from the sippy cup. You can applaud the action, give extra playtime, or sing a favorite lullaby as a reward.
Make the Transitional Cup Interesting
In case your toddler stubbornly clings to its feeding bottle, you may want to say something along the lines of, “The bottle fairy came to our house when you were sleeping and took all your bottles for little babies who need them. But look, they left these really amazing sippy cups with your favorite cartoon on it!”
They may not be very accepting of the new addition to their feeding schedule but once they get attracted to “big boy/big girl cups” with colorful straws and designs, they’ll be much more willing to make the transition.
You can even take your toddler to the store with you to choose a cup. This will build excitement towards the bottle-to-cup change.
Adopt the Out of Sight, Out of Mind Approach
Keep the bottles out of sight and out of reach. If your toddler doesn’t see the bottle, they aren’t likely to ask for it. This can help speed up the transition.
Remember, the pace at which they get used to drinking from cups depends on you. Don’t give in to temptation every time your toddler cries for the bottles or throws a hissy fit. It will only make the process harder and longer for both of you.
If you don’t think you’re equipped to deal with this transition, engage your partner for help. You can ask your partner to hide the bottles. If you don’t know where they are, you won’t be able to give in and meet your toddler’s demands.
Understand What Your Child Needs
If your toddler shows an aversion for cups and keeps asking for bottles, find out if there might be hidden motivations behind it. Sometimes, the underlying cause may be hunger or thirst. You can solve this by providing them with their favorite foods.
At times, your toddler may be after the security and comfort the bottle represents. As a parent, you may be tempted to give in to them but remember, prolonged bottle feeding comes with health concerns so it isn’t the best course of action.
You can encourage toddlers to use cups by cuddling with them after they use one or engaging them in other forms of attention so they associate it with pleasant things.
Reduce the Amount of Milk in the Bottle
Bedtime bottle-feeding is the hardest to eliminate. It’s one of the reasons why the most common question posed by parents is “How do I get my 2-year-old off the bottle at night?”
Consistency and a few tricks up your sleeve can help you eliminate the last bottle that your child looks for. Here’s how to do it with minimal resistance: just reduce the milk in the bottle by an ounce every few nights. When you reach the 1-ounce mark, try removing the bottle altogether.
Get a Comfort Replacement
Familiarity and force of habit are the two top reasons why you’ll meet with a lot of resistance. When you start weaning them off, introduce a comforting object like a stuffed toy or blanket as a substitute for the comfort and security their bottles offered them.
Go Cold Turkey
This is often seen as a cruel approach to weaning a toddler from a bottle. However, if your toddler shows a lot of resistance towards the idea of drinking from anything that isn't a bottle, it may be your only choice.
Sudden withdrawal can be painful for your toddler so only adopt this method if all else fails. You can also employ a more acceptable cold turkey approach by involving your toddler in the "bye-bye bottle" process.
Have them be present while you pack all their bottles away and allow them to put stamps on them. You can even throw a party for the transitional process to make it more fun and appealing for your baby.
Wrapping Up: Be Patient, Consistent, and Creative
The transition from bottle to cup may take longer than anticipated. Your toddler may throw tantrums and reject the idea but remember, weaning a toddler from a bottle is an important and healthy adjustment.
Be patient, creative, and consistent and you may find relief quicker than you thought possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is it bad for a 2-year-old to have a bottle?
Yes, it is bad for a 2-year-old to continue bottle-feeding. Research shows that children who use bottles beyond the age of 2 are more susceptible to health issues like pediatric obesity, anemia, and dental issues.
Does this bottle-feeding limit extend to formula?
It all depends on the nutritional needs of your baby. If you’re uncertain on whether or not your baby needs toddler formula, it would be wise to consult a pediatrician to get their insights on the matter.
When should my 2-year-old stop drink milk?
You’ve stopped bottle-feeding but that doesn’t mean that you should avoid milk altogether. There are no rules on when you should stop giving milk to children. In fact, milk continues to be an important source of calcium and Vitamin D for them — essential nutrients for growing bones.
Even adults are advised to consume 3 servings of milk each day.
While some sources say that you can switch to low or nonfat milk when children reach the age of two, it’s best to consult your pediatrician for specific recommendations.
The type of milk you give your toddler will depend on your child’s weight, general health, family history, etc. — factors that a medical professional can take into account during your visit.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.