Prolonged bottle-feeding (beyond 18 months of age) has been shown to increase a child’s risk for iron deficiency—a condition that is common in children whose diet is primarily milk rather than a wide variety of healthy foods. Bedtime bottle use also increases the risk of tooth decay—another reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends complete bottle weaning before your child is 18 months of age.
Remember, by the time your child turns one, he should no longer need to eat or drink during the night, and should get all of his necessary calories and nutrients before bedtime rolls around.
Depending on your baby’s age and ability, bottle-weaning can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Tips for weaning your baby from a bottle to a cup include:
- Offer a cup early and often. Don’t wait until your baby is spill-proof. Many babies will show an interest in drinking from a cup as early as 6 months. Follow your baby’s lead, but know that like any new skill, cup-drinking requires practice on the part of babies and patience on the part of parents.
- By the time your baby is one, start substituting a cup for his midday bottle.
- Involve your baby in the process by allowing him to choose his own cup.
- Put a familiar liquid in the cup—either expressed breast milk or formula.
- Offer the cup first. If your baby refuses the cup, offer the bottle, but for increasingly shorter periods of time.
- Once your baby's midday bottle has been successfully substituted for a cup, start to eliminate evening and morning bottles. Many parents save the bedtime bottle for last, since it’s often the most difficult to give up, but every child is different.
- Keep your baby from becoming too attached to the bottle by not allowing him to crawl or walk around with a bottle or take it to bed.
- Replace bedtime bottles with a new routine such as reading a book or singing a song.
- Offer a wide variety of solid foods. Many babies lose interest in the bottle once they are eating three meals and two snacks a day.
- Avoid bottle-weaning during periods of illness or stress.