I think this is the third post I’ve written on bottle weaning, which is highly ironic, considering that my nearly 19-month-old is still sucking the proverbial (actual, I take that back – the literal, albeit silicone) teat. I just can’t break him of the habit. Granted, as shown in this post from many months back, I am a total pushover. If it’s Fearless Child and I in a battle of wills, I can almost guarantee that FC will win. (Althought lately I’ve been becoming a formidable opponent. I’ve found that if I pretend to cry, it usually stops him in his tracks. Not because the thought of his dear mother in tears disturbs him, but because he finds it hilarious, and the racous laughter usually distracts him from whatever mischeif was brewing.)
So, this post will have to be filed in the “do as I say, not as I do” category. I can’t say I have tried all of the following techniques, or followed through with them to any significant degree, but apparently, they’ve worked for a lot of other folks (who are presumably stronger than I, or maybe they just have less-stubborn babies. At least that’s what I tell myself so I won’t cry. For real, not just to fake out my son.)
First things first: Pre-weaning
Common wisdom is that you start with the sippy cup around 6-8 months, in the hopes that by the one year mark, you can rip the bottles out of your child’s tiny hands and replace it with your sippy of choice without much drama. At my house, the sippy was a hit, but more as a toy than a drinking device. FC could handle it just fine (the kid was holding his own bottles by 5 months), but he had more interest in holding the cup upside down to see if he could spill its contents, or taking the darn thing apart (his favorite game as an infant was to take apart the ten zillion pieces of his Born Frees and putting them back together. I know adults who can’t figure those blasted discs out – ahem, my mom- but they were no match for FC’s nimble little fingers). After a few months, he would actually take a few sips from a few specific sippies, but when he wanted comfort or a real drink, it was “BABABABBABAAAA”, all the way.
Which brings me to….
Finding the right transitional cup
Contrary to what I thought the first time I waltzed over to the baby aisle at Target, there are about 1000 different types of “transitional cups”. These include your generic sippies (both hard and soft spout, slow and fast flow); straw cups, sports sippers, and other weird contraptions that I think were just jazzed up sippies. We had the best luck with the hard-spout Playtex sippies and these awesome Nuby sports sippers, which I love because a) they are a cinch to clean, with only two parts (no valves, separate straws, or anything else prone to mold due to insufficient cleaning – otherwise known as the “rushed-mom” method, because who the heck has time to take apart and individually clean all those parts with different nipple brushes and other sponge apparati when your child doesn’t nap for more than 30 minutes a day); b) they come with covers, saving you from the inevitable diaper-bag juice drenching; and c) for some reason, my bottle-loving kid found the drinking method associated with these cups to be satisfactory. Sold.
Now, I should disclose that we have quite the collection of sippies on our counter, because I developed a little sippy problem – I mean, who knew which one could be the one, the one that would help us do away with the bottle and consequently save my child from a certain fate of tooth decay and speech impediments? What’s another ten bucks here or there? Right? (Please back me up here; it’s still a source of contention between me and Fearless Husband).
Point being, it might take several tries before you find the right transitional cup. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Just becasue one doesn’t work for your kid, it doesn’t mean none will.
Now for the fun part: The Actual Weaning
According to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, your child is ready to be weaned off the bottle between 12-18 months, once s/he is showing the following signs:
- Can sit up by themselves
- Can eat from a spoon
- Show more interest in solid foods
- Have an established routine for mealtimes
Umm. Yeah. Well, here’s the thing: FC has been sitting up on his own since 4 months; eating from a spoon from about 6, and eats like a champ, when he wants to. I wouldn’t say he has an “established routine” for mealtimes; usually I get a bowl of cereal and a bunch of fruit into him in the morning, and we do a nice healthy dinner at night, but in between… it’s lucky if I can get a handful of edamame and some peas into the kid. Still, I think we fulfilled most of these requirements by about 6 months old. So how come, more than a year later, he still won’t hand over the damn bottle?
Oh, right. This isn’t about me. Onward.
Most reputable sites suggest waiting for a “non-stressful” time to start the weaning process. I think this is where most parents probably hit their first weaning roadblock. When is it not a stressful time for a baby or toddler? Between teething, “wonder weeks”, parents going back to work, changes of daycare providers, sleep issues, illnesses… there just never seems to be a perfect time to start a potentially problematic process. But if you can muster the courage, here’s the system that seems to have worked for most people I’ve talked to:
1. Start by only offering the sippy at mealtimes. Still use the bottle for bedtime/naptime and other times of “comfort”.
2. Every week, replace one bottle feeding with a sippy cup, working up to eventually dropping all bottle feedings except the bedtime one, if this is an integral part of your bedtime routine.
3. If your child needs to suck for comfort and won’t take a pacifier, try giving him/her a bottle of just water, and save the milk or juice for the sippies. This way, they’ll start to identify nourishment with the sippy, and just comfort with sucking. This should at least make it easier for you to cut most bottle feedings out of your routine, and if they’re just sucking on water, you don’t need to worry about tooth decay.
4. If you’re also weaning from formula to milk, start by adding incremental amounts of milk to the formula every feeding. This will help your child get used to the taste. You can start giving whole cow’s (or goat’s) milk after your child’s first birthday. For those with dairy intolerances or who are trying to raise their children vegan, there are plenty of great milk substitutes out there – rice, oat, hemp and nut (as long as your child doesn’t have a nut allergy). You can use the same system with any type of milk substitutes – I added just an ounce of oat milk to FC’s formula at first, and then slowly increased it. This portion of weaning went a lot more smoothly than I’d expected, especially as he really liked the taste of his new “milk”. I’ve heard that a lot of kids don’t love milk at first, but don’t stress too much about this – you can always get dairy in their diets through other sources, like cheese or yogurt. If you’ve weaned off the bottles, then you can just give them water (or diluted juice) for beverages, or try one of the aforementioned milk substitutes for added nutrition if their solid foot diet is lacking.
Enough about you…back to me and my problems
We started off well in our weaning endeavors. I followed all the rules above, but every time I tried to substitute the sippy for the bottle, FC would throw the cup on the floor and scream bloody murder until I gave in to his demands. Chatstising myself in the process, I’d hand him a bottle and promsie to start fresh tomorrow. My babysitter and husband had no better luck. FC beat us all down.
The thing is, the bottle was a really amazing crutch for us when my son was about 6-17 months. It was the only thing that promised us 2-3 minutes of respite – time enough to shower or shovel food down our throats. In the car, it would guarantee a peaceful ride. And to be fair, we do give him water a lot of the time; it’s not always his “milk” (which is a combination of unsweetened Almond Breeze and organic oat milk, so not as high calorically or fat-wise as regular milk – he’s not “filling up” on the bottles, really). But now that we can reason with him (which also means he can talk back, so I’m not sure how productive that reasoning will ever be), I think it may be time to try this weaning thing again.
FFF Lillily recently suggested switching to a low-flow nipple, so that FC will get so frustrated with the speed of his chosen liquid delivery system that he’ll lose interest in the bottle. It’s a clever theory. I may give it a try. Or I may just do the cold turkey thing and prepare for a day or two of hell. Do they do Ferber for bottle weaning?
I’d love to hear your weaning success stories… and any suggestions anyone has for getting an older, extremely smart, stubborn, and bottle-loving child off the sauce. Bring on the tough love, folks. I’d like to get this kid off the bottle before I have a new one to deal with, dig?