A Tear Free Guide for Transitioning from Bottles to Sippy Cups
Step 1: Remove bottle. Step 2: Insert sippy cup. Sounds so simple, right?
Well what is missing from this equation is Steps 3-10 which can often include tears (from parents and children), sleepless nights for children who are missing their bedtime bottle, sleepless nights from parents who are concerned their little one is no longer getting enough nutrients without the bottle, tantrums, milky messes and so much more! So, in order to prevent or minimize these less than pleasant events here are some proactive steps you can take to help make this transition a walk in the park.
Timing Is Everything
When is the right time to toss those bottles? Most pediatricians advise that children should begin weaning from the bottle at 12 months. But as we know age is just a number. Some children are ready to ditch the bottle at as young as 6 months while others are still seeking comfort of their precious “baba” at 2 or 3 years old. There is clearly no perfect age or answer to this question but there are several things to consider that may help you to better understand when the time is right for your child.
Is your child developmentally ready? Things to look for here include: your child’s grasp which should be strong enough to pick up and shake toys as well as your child’s ability to easily and readily bring things to his or her mouth.
Are you ready? While some parents cannot wait to ditch the bottles and the endless hours spent cleaning and sanitizing all those tiny parts, many parents are not yet ready to give up that sweet cuddle time that often happens with the early morning or late night bottle feedings.
Is your child emotionally ready? Some questions to ask here include: is your child very attached to his bottle? Does he rely on it for comfort? Is it a critical part of the bedtime routine?
A “No” to any of these questions should not send the surrender flags in the air but rather be considered as areas that you can work on with your child to help set him or her up for success for when the time to transition is right.
Introduce the sippy cup early and often! 6 months of age is a good time to start. At this age, children love to explore novel things using their mouths so your child will be inclined to bring the cup to their mouth and start to explore it. Fill it with water-or even a little breast milk or formula to start. You can also just dip the spout into milk or another preferred item to give them a special treat when that spout makes it to their mouth-this will increase the chances they will keep doing that. The key here is to keep it simple, keep it fun and keep it child directed. You may be surprised at how quickly your child takes to it. If they do take to it quickly, be sure to follow their lead and start to replace bottles with sippy cups filled with formula or milk-even at 6 or 7 months.
Find the Right Sippy Cup
If you have ever walked the aisles of any local baby store, you understand that this is not an easy task. There are many different types of sippy cups on the market these days it is tough to know where to start. The biggest factor is going to be your child’s individual preference which you know best. A good starting place is to consider trying sippy cups that most closely resemble your child’s favorite bottle. Many of the big-name bottle brands have created their own line of sippy cups to accomplish this. If not, just look for cups that offer a soft nipple-like spout. Another thing to check for is the ease of flow. If your child needs to work harder to get milk from a cup than from a bottle then naturally they will prefer the bottle, so be sure to choose a cup that has a comparable or faster flow spout than your child’s bottle. You may also want to consider skipping the sippy cup all together and going right to a straw. For some children, this more dramatic change works best.
Make the Sippy Cup Fun
Some kids will naturally take to the sippy cups while others will actively refuse. The key here is to condition the sippy cup to be even better than the bottle-this can take some creativity. First, consider the ease of use and nipple flow as mentioned above. Another strategy is to have your child pick out their own sippy cup or chose a cup in their favorite color or featuring their favorite character. Once you begin the transition, if you opt to use both the sippy cup and the bottle make sure to put the most preferred beverage in the sippy cup (i.e. milk) and the least preferred in the bottle (plain water).
Break the Bottle Bond
Just because it is time to say bye-bye to bottles, doesn’t mean it is time to say bye-bye to those precious cuddle times that come with early morning or late evening bottle feedings. You can keep that special bonding time but instead replace the bottle with a lovie or even a sippy cup filled with milk or water. Just remember to never put a child to bed with a sippy cup (or bottle) as this is a leading cause of tooth decay in children.
For children who are very sensitive to changes in sensory input, specifically children with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorders, a more gradual transition may be needed with the actual bottle itself. Some brands of sippy cups now offer transitional packages that start very similar to a bottle nipple and then the nipple gradually changes shape to become more like a spout and then into a straw. One thing to keep in mind here is to consider keeping the presentation of the formula or milk the same. For example, if you typically present your child with warm milk, continue to warm the milk as you work on this process to allow your child to adjust to the change of the bottle alone then work on any additional changes at a different time.
A major detour or speed bump in transitioning from bottles often occurs when parents worry their child is not getting enough nutrients when the bottle-feeding decreases or stops all together. Therefore, it is recommended you spend some time really understanding your child’s nutritional needs. This is a great conversation to have with your pediatrician at your child’s 1-year checkup. It is important to keep in mind that after 12 months, your child’s growth rate slows down so a decrease in appetite is normal and not necessarily a red flag or reason to supplement with formula. It is also important to keep in mind that those bellies are still tiny. If your child just filled up on sweet potatoes and bananas it is not likely they are going to want to also have a sippy cup of milk. An idea would be to space out feedings to allow time for those bellies to digest and make room.
Choosing the Right Approach
There are several different approaches that one can take when making the transition away from bottles to sippy cups and almost all will end with the same result. The goal here is to choose the approach that best fits your family so you can get to the end result with the least amount of frustration or tears. There are 3 main ways to go about it: Cold Turkey, Gradual or Child Choice
Cold Turkey: Bottles today, none tomorrow. This approach works great for some. As you may guess with this approach you simply replace the bottles with sippy cups. Bottles disappear one night and never return. This could be a good option for children who are not very attached to their bottles and have shown interest and ability to use sippy cups. Many choose to use this approach on their child’s first birthday explaining that they are a “big kid now” and presenting them with some cool new cups.
Gradual: A gradual transition may be a good option for those children (and parents!) who are more attached to their bottles. In this approach, you simply start by transitioning one bottle feeding at a time to the sippy cup. You may start by replacing one of the mid-day bottles with a sippy cup. Keep up with this for a week or so and then replace another. Once again, those early morning and late night bottle feedings are often the toughest to give up-keep those for last and use the advice up above to keep that cuddle time in tact!
Child Choice: This approach works best for those of us who cannot bear to take those bottles away without our child’s willingness to let them go. With this approach, you can continue to offer bottles as well as sippy cups but you will start to make the sippy cups more appealing to gradually lead you child to choose the cup over the bottle. Simple tricks like allowing them to choose their own sippy cups, complete with favorite colors and characters is a great place to start. You may also start talking up sippy cups by saying things like “here is your special big girl cup”. You will also start to change what is offered in the bottle versus the cup by presenting the most preferred liquids in the sippy cup and keeping the bottle for water. An additional trick is to go back to the level one nipples on the bottle. By increasing the response effort of the bottle your child’s preference may naturally switch to the easier to use sippy cup.
This transition is one of the first major transitions that marks your precious baby stepping into toddlerhood. This will be one of many transitions you will get to experience for your quickly growing little one so it is important to take the time to enjoy it and celebrate your baby’s development. And, don’t worry!-even if the transition proves to be a bumpy one, trust that you and your child will get there.
Allison Genovese is the Director of Realizing Children’s Strengths (RCS) Early Childhood Programs for RCS Behavioral and Educational Consulting and Mini Miracles Early Education and Childcare Center (MMCC). RCS provides exceptional Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services to children with Autism and their families between the ages of 0-6 years old throughout the state of Massachusetts. MMCC located in Natick, provides an outstanding early education and childcare experience for all children between the ages of 2 months to 5.5 years.