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How can I wean my baby off her bottle?
Q: How can I get my 17-month-old daughter off the bottle without going the cold turkey route? I have tried skipping a bottle and putting milk in a cup, but she resists it, so I’m worried that if I go cold turkey she’ll quit drinking altogether. Sometimes she will drink a whole 8-ounce bottle and other times she will drink only 2 to 4 ounces She drinks from 8 to 24 ounces of milk a day.
Holly Aurora
A: Holly, the transition from bottle to cup can be difficult for some babies. But it’s good you’re working on it now. It’s healthier and easier to stop the bottle between 12 and 18 months of age than at 2 or 3 years old.

Why is this a good time to stop the bottle? Infants have a strong need to suck for nutrition and comfort, but sucking becomes less important after 1 year of age. Although milk is still an important part of a toddler’s diet, table foods become an increasingly important source of nutrition. In fact, toddlers who continue to drink from a bottle can drink too much milk or juice and ruin their appetite for solid foods, which can lead to anemia, diarrhea and growth problems. Toddlers should drink 16 to 24 ounces (two to three cups) of milk per day, which it sounds like your daughter is doing on most days. It’s typical for toddlers to eat or drink a lot one day and less the next day. Their nutrition just needs to balance out over the course of a week or so. Make sure your daughter also eats three meals a day and snacks with a variety of nutritious foods including meats, grains, fruits, vegetables and other dairy products.

How can you encourage her to drink from a cup and give up the bottle? At 17 months old your daughter is probably becoming a little more independent, more skilled using her hands and is learning to feed herself with her hands and a spoon or fork. She is also probably able to hold a cup and bring it to her mouth. Since her physical skills are ready for the using the cup, the major challenge is to get her onboard emotionally. Have patience. It might take anywhere from a week to a month to make the switch.

Encourage your daughter to drink from the cup by offering her whole milk or juice in an attractive sippy cup when she’s thirsty. Take her to the store to pick out a cup. You might try out different styles of cups with different spouts, handles, shape and colours. She may have a preference for a certain appearance or find it easier to drink from a particular style. During the transition period save the bottle for the times she really needs the comfort, such as bedtime, but try the cup at other times.

One of the most powerful encouragements for children is the example of “big kids.” If your daughter has the opportunity to be around slightly older children who drink from a cup she will want to imitate them. In addition, words of encouragement from you and the other adults in her life that reinforce her development into a “big girl” can be just the motivation she needs.

When she’s comfortable drinking from the cup, you can decide when you want to take away the last comfort bottle. Some parents also help their child lose interest in the bottle by gradually diluting the milk in the bottle with more and more water over the course of a week—for example, a couple of days of mixing 2 ounces of water with 6 ounces of milk, then a couple of days mixing 4 ounces of water with 4 ounces of milk, then 6 ounces of water with 2 ounces of milk, and finally just water—until the child finally gives up the bottle because it no longer provides the satisfaction it used to. You might plan a celebration to get rid of the bottle—maybe packing it away in a gift box and “giving” it to a little baby you know.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician