Bottle weaning, take three

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?

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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14 thoughts on “Bottle weaning, take three

  1. Are you sure FC is able to easily get the liquid out of your sippy cups? I recently tried to drink out of one of the sippies I purchased for Mittens, and I couldn't get the darn thing to release the liquid! No wonder Mittens pitched a fit when she tried it.

    Maybe skip the sippies altogether and try drinking from a straw or regular cup?

  2. My son only liked sippy cups as a chew toy. I absolutely love the playtex straw cups. They don't leak but I can easily suck out water and so can my son. He was thrilled when he recently figured out the straw and loves it for every meal.

    I'm starting to think I'll just wean like I would have had breastfeeding worked, slowly. The more food he eats the less formula and bottle he'll want. He's even down to less that 30 ounces now, I'm guessing it's around 25.

    Otherwise, I have to say I like the time with the bottle. It's nice to hold him since he's such a busy boy!

  3. This is timely for me, as I am about to start weaning Charlotte off the boob, and I am just as prone too caving. For instance, we were doing just fine with only nursing at night, but if she asks during the day, I feel bad and do it anyway.

    Since we're talking about another kid, it seems like a good time. But I'm scaaaaaaared!

    I also have a sippy cup addiction, much to Chris;s chagrin, so I totally feel you there! I recently bought her little aluminum sports bottles from the Disney store for, like, four bucks a pop, and she LOVES them.

    Worth a try?

  4. Just reading this worries me for baby #2, since I can't even remember how I weaned #1! I'll probably be re-reading this in about, oh, a year to see what to do!

    I completely agree with the sippy obsession. Of course you never know which one will be the fave! And I think using a low flow nipple makes sense. But, like I said, I can't remember how the hell I did this so who am I to talk?

    I do want to point out that I know a few parents who've had success weaning “later” (define later however you wish) by skipping the sippy entirely and going from bottle to cup, just as suggested above.

    It would be messy in the beginning but maybe the independence/novelty of a big kid cup would work in your favour?

  5. Kids like to copy other kids, esp. slightly older ones. Are there any older kids around that he could observe drinking from the cup (cousins, friends' kids etc.)?

  6. I think you've just got to do it cold turkey. But I think I'm kind of a mean mom that way.

    And those NUBY sippys… holy hell I hate those things. Kellen decided they were a teething device, and every one of them has been chomped on so that they leak BAD. We switched to the hard Playtex, and we dish-wash EVERYTHING.

  7. @Andrea,

    You bring up an excellent point – I LOVE the times where he will cuddle with me and drink a bottle. It's pretty much my favorite time of day. My kid is always on the go, too, and as I mentioned in the post, drinking a bottle tends to slow him down a bit. With sippies, it's just swig-and-go. I will miss those bottle cuddles.

  8. I'm with Brooke.. we just went cold turkey. Cos im a Mean Mummy like that.

    Took us 4 days total but we won in the end. I ended up feeding the child more milk in his breakfast and a few meals of soup just to try and make up for the dehydration. Also i tried sitting with him when i gave him his milk and he if he threw a fit and chucked it on the floor i would like pick it up and leave the cup somewhere for him if he wanted it. After day 2 he was sneaking sips when he thought we were not looking. Little snot!

  9. I reduced the number of times I used the bottle gradually with DD as I gave her more solids. I actually think it is fine for under 18 months tots to have a bottle as long as they don't sleep with it in their mouth. I found that Nuby was the best transition with us. I too loved my cuddly bottle time with DD so guess what? She still sits on my lap and drinks her sippy cup of milk now and she is 2 and when she isn't feeling good there are those rare moments that she wants to me to hold it for her, I say continue to do this as it is only a short they are babies.

  10. Here is my advice:

    1) Cold turkey and don't look back

    Toddlers are like little emotional sponges. If FC senses your uncertainty and anxiety over this it will be much harder. If you can stay very positive and strong- it will be easier. I promise. A crappy couple of days maybe, but then it will be over. –Wait until you feel better though.


    Also, on the sippy front: I also had a serious sippy addiction. You know what I found? For A anyway the easiest and best ones are the “tossable' ones. I don't toss them. I just wash them and use over and over again. (Replace every 4-6 months or so as the spout gets chewed up, they are recyclable) Uber cheap, light and easy for her to hold and the only ones she will drink out of. Simple is better.

  11. I'm with Kathleen all the way, and I'm also with Cheryl. Don't hurry. Personally, I think any time under the age of 2 is O.K. Wait until you feel REALLY ready (but you should probably do it before the next baby). The most important thing is conviction. Second most important thing: acceptance and acknowledgement of your boy's (probably extremely short) grieving period. Encourage him to feel. Let him get mad, sad, whatever. Look at it as a healthy primal scream therapy session. Toddlers have a lot of angst to release anyway. And he has a right.

    Tell him what is going to happen a day or two beforehand. Be brave. It will be so much easier for him if you are, and the whole thing will be SO much easier than you expect once you are committed.

    And I would do without the sippy cups entirely and go straight to a regular cup. In the classes I teach we use real glasses! The children love them. Get a special cup/glass and a special little healthy biscuit/whatever and have a lovely bedtime ritual. Let him choose the special cup. Give him a little measuring cup, pour a small amount of water into it and let him pour it into his special cup. Think of him as capable and let him rise to the occasion.

    I could go on, but I won't! 😉 Most important of all, take it easy. No stress for you!

  12. I can't help but come at this from my breast-feeding background. I've learned that sucking is a reflex (as I am sure you already know). I actually talk about it in my most recent post but anyway… What I didn't know until recently is that most children do not outgrow this until the age of two and some go onto the age of three. And it's rare, but some do go to the age of five. Again, very rare. Also, many moms will start the weaning process but usually by the time the child stops, it could have been the time they would have stopped on their own anyway.

    We do both bottle and breast-feeding. The only thing that has worked to get her less interested in the bottle is to put water in it. At first she would have nothing to do with it but I kept offering it to her in between feedings and in the middle of the night (instead of a pacifier). Now she enjoys it but more as a way to quench her thirst than a comfort. She drinks just enough and then throws it down.

    Here's something you might enjoy. My cousin loved his bottle until the age of three. At that point my aunt felt that it was enough. She took all of his bottles outside and said to him, “say bye-bye to the bottles!” and proceeded to throw them one by one into the bushes. She even got him to help. He seemed to understand this meant no more bottle. A few weeks later, he found one under his bed, walked outside and threw it in the bushes. All by himself.

    See, they do grow up. *pouts*

  13. This is such succinct advice for my lil' punkin who at 16 months still wants her baba sometimes. The other night I had a little bottle cuddle with her, so sweet, I just held her and kissed her little forehead and her sleepy little face once she was done. Who says bottle feeding parents don't bond with their kids? If what I had wasn't bonding, I don't know what is. Which makes me feel like it's just not a good time for us to wean off the bottle yet, screw what the AAP says.

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