Weaning a baby from a bottle is a bittersweet and often troubling time for both parent and child. Leaving the bottle behind means that your baby, seemingly just born yesterday, is taking their first steps into the big wide world of growing up. For the child, the bottle represents everything warm, secure, and happy about being a baby and being forced to give it up comes as quite a shock to them. Lots of parents have questions about when to wean the baby and there are plenty of books and parenting classes devoted to just this subject. The answer is not exactly clear for every baby-parent team; but there is advice worth following. It is never attractive to see a 4 year old suckling on a mothers breast, toting a pacifier in their book bag to pre-k or completely unable to fall asleep without a big bottle of something. And waiting too long can wreak havoc on your baby’s health in many ways. Still, it has to be something that both mom and baby are committed to. (Mostly just mom)
The easiest way to wean isn’t the way that most people do it. The easiest way to wean a baby from a bottle (or anything) is around the age of 8 months, but not after a year. It is within these months that baby’s learn the scientific theory of object permeance. Meaning, they know that just because they don’t see the bottle doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Once your baby knows the bottle is hiding somewhere in the dishwasher, the car or the diaper bag, they will wait and beg for it. However, up until this point, your baby is pretty easy to distract. When you begin to see tooth buds erupting around 4-6 months, you should discontinue bottle use during the day and move to a sippy-cup. Pediatric dentists also encourage parents to take out the spill proof component of the cups so that your child stops using a sucking motion to draw fluids. This can ruin the teeth. If you do this, you will no doubt have more spills around the house, but it is a gentle way to start the weaning process.
If your baby stills needs a bottle to go to sleep at night, then allow them to have it just for nighttime. The rest of the day, they should be using cups or straws. Start talking about being a big boy or girl and make slow changes to your nighttime routine. Rather than put them down with a bottle, allow them to have it in the living room as they rock or relax and then carry them to their crib without the bottle. This way they are still getting their bottle but are learning to disassociate it with sleeping. After a few weeks of this, you may try sneaking in a sippy cup instead of the bottle altogether. If you do this around the 9-10 month mark (even earlier if possible), your baby will transition pretty well and easily. At this stage, the struggle is often about mom seeing her baby growing up too fast rather than about the baby becoming agitated or upset.
If you wait passed the year mark, you are asking for trouble. At this point, many babies become attached to the bottle, not for nourishment but for relaxing. Since parents like to do whatever is easiest, they often give in to the bottle for an extended part of time because they don’t want the battle at bedtime. The problem this is that it can cause tooth decay and other dental problems AND can set a pattern for sleep problems that can last into middle school. When it comes to weaning the baby off the bottle, the sooner the better! Perhaps the best plan at this point is the one that Super Nanny would use.
Take the bottle away. Empty the house of bottles and nipples, unload the car, the diaper bag and any other place they might be lurking. And just say no. Your baby (or should we say toddler) will whine and throw a fit. They will be fitful for a few nights. They will definitely cry. They will definitely be moody and grumpy for a few days. But when they realize that you mean business and that they are no longer there (anywhere) they will have no choice but become accustomed to it. don’t stand down, don’t break in, and definitely don’t go buy any more bottles. Some kids may react well to packing up all the bottle supplies together so they can ‘donate it to another baby being born that needs it!’ You can also take this time in your toddler’s life to purchase a bike or trampoline that just proves what a big kid they are now.
Weaning a baby from a bottle especially when they aren’t really a baby anymore can be one of the worst times for a parent. You may start adopting the thinking that they are only little once, that they won’t keep their bottle FOREVER so what’s a few more months or that it is mean and heartless to do this to your child! Just remember that you have to stick to your plan. If you haven’t weaned your baby before the big one-year mark, you are going to have a problem with it. Sometimes, toddlers have a small window of time where they may be in agreement to being weaned and some do not. You should begin the weaning process by talking about it and pointing out kids their age who do not have a bottle. This way they can start to prepare themselves.
When you are going through it, the weaning process can feel endless and burdensome. If you give it time, and realize that you are doing the right thing for the health of your toddler, it will be easier to relax and get the job done. Some kids are naturally harder to wean and finding personal ways to make it easier for them can help. However, it’s true that very few 3rd graders are still using a bottle but that doesn’t mean you should allow it to go on as long as possible. If left to your child, they may never give up the bottle.