For many young children, giving up the bottle is one of the hardest transitions they will have to make in their first two years. A bottle is both a source of nourishment and comfort for many little ones, and saying goodbye to that part of their baby-hood can be painful. But it doesn’t have to be a battle, as long as moms and dads – or even older siblings – know how to ease the transition and help their children cope.
Most experts recommend dropping the bottle at one year, or no later than eighteen months. To prepare your child, you should start to introduce the cup much sooner than that. As early as six months, your baby might be curious about a sippy cup or a straw cup. Fill it with water and let them experiment with holding it or sipping from it. It will probably wind up on the floor, but you may just pique their curiosity and help them see that they can drink from something besides a bottle.
When their dexterity improves and they are better able to handle a cup and bring it up to their mouth, you can start by offering a cup instead of a bottle at one meal. Be prepared for some rejection, but just keep up the encouraging words and let them know that a cup is the “big boy” or “big girl” way to drink. Soon you can scale up to offering a cup at two and then three meals, and after you are certain that they are drinking enough at each meal, you can eliminate any morning or bedtime bottles.
Of course, the entire transition may take a while and you may encounter some resistance along each step of the way. You may need to experiment with various cups to find one that your child finds most comfortable. Look around in your local drugstores and grocery stores: There are many transitional-style sippy cups with a soft mouthpart that can help ease the transition from a nipple. On the other hand, some children prefer straws because they are completely different from a bottle. You just have to watch your children carefully with a straw cup to make sure they don’t find a way to dump the milk all over the floor.
Some moms also “sweeten the deal” by offering juice or watered-down juice in the sippy cup. This might help little ones get used to the idea of drinking from a cup when milk alone is not enough of an incentive. The only caution (and this applies to milk as well) is to use juice sparingly and to make sure that your little ones are not walking around all day drinking sugary drinks, which could be bad for their teeth.
A different school of thought on the bottle-to-cup transition is to quit the bottle “cold turkey.” Most often parents resort to this when their toddlers are a little bit older and have shown resistance over time to the idea of using a cup. The advantage of this method is that it will not take nearly as long; the disadvantage is that it will almost certainly be a hard couple of days on your child. The key to the “cold turkey” method is not to waver – throw away the bottles if you must – and make sure that your child knows that you’ve said “goodbye” to the baby bottles because they are for babies.
When your child is finally finished with the bottles, you can make a big show of wrapping them up and giving them as a “gift” to another little baby that you know. But even if you decide to throw them in the trash, save just one for your baby’s memory box. Someday they can look at it and see how they have grown from a tiny baby who only drank from bottles to a big kid who drinks from real cups every day.