It’s okay that my toddler still takes a bottle. That’s what I used to tell myself every single day. It’s okay that my toddler still takes a bottle. But the obvious fact of the matter was that I simply wasn’t okay with it. Many parents are, and to those parents, I say bravo. But I wasn’t one of them. If you’re with me on this–feeling tired of the toddler bottle–this article is for you. Let’s talk about how to wean your toddler from the bottle.
We’ll break this conversation into a few pieces:
- Being Okay With the Transition
- When To Get Rid of the Toddler Bottle
- How to Wean Toddler Off the Bottle
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- Being Okay with the Transition from a Toddler Bottle
- Failed Plans To Wean From the Bottle
- Why Do We Feel the Need to Wean Young Toddlers Off the Bottle?
- When Should My Toddler Be Off the Bottle?
- When Do Pediatricians Say You Should Wean A Toddler from the Bottle?
- How Do I Get My Toddler off the Bottle?
- Tips To Wean a Toddler Off the Bottle
Being Okay with the Transition from a Toddler Bottle
Here’s the thing, truly my biggest piece of advice. Don’t worry about how to wean your toddler from the bottle until you, Mama, are ready to get that toddler off the bottle.
You see, I spent months worrying about Jack’s attachment to his bottle because I felt like he should be off of it. But I didn’t actually want him to be off of it.
When you’re in the throws of a parenting issue, you pretty much always feel like you’re doing it wrong. Or is that just me?
In the time Jack has been cup-exclusive, I’ve noticed that I couldn’t care less whether other people’s toddlers take a bottle. I see a 3 or 4 year old taking a bottle and, quite frankly, I don’t give a damn!
But when Jack was 1 1/2 and still on a bottle, I felt like the world must be ending. Naturally.
Now that the bottle stage is far behind us, I can look back on it more rationally, and I realize many of my problems getting Jack off the bottle were my own.
Wait Until You Are Ready
You have to be ready. Not your child. YOU.
And if you aren’t ready? Well, then maybe it’s not time to wean your toddler off the bottle. Or maybe wean is they keyword. Maybe you drop it every feeding except morning and night.
As parents, we feel like we’re constantly working within rules and expectations that are black and white. But there is a middle. Maybe you just need the middle.
Why Are So Many Moms Attached to the Toddler Bottle?
There are a lot of reasons parents are attached to the bottle.
First, it makes their lives easier. We all know that, when your toddler wants something, giving in is far easier than fighting, even though we can’t always make that choice.
Also, we hate doing kids that make our kids sad or upset. Yes, because we know they’ll throw fits. But also because we love them. We wish we could make their lives easy. We know that’s not what’s best long term, but we wish we could anyway.
That’s why major changes like weaning (either from bottle or breast), potty training, and transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed feel like such big deals. We don’t want to turn their worlds upside down.
We Want To Provide Comfort
And if your baby is bottle fed, that’s the primary comfort they’ve known their entire lives, or at least for what they remember of it. If, like Jack, they were both breast and bottle fed, it’s still a major source of comfort for both you and the baby.
For me, it was actually the struggle with breastfeeding that kept me so attached to the bottle.
Jack weaned himself from the breast at 8 1/2 months. I was devastated. It had taken 10.5 weeks of exclusively pumping before he could latch. I felt like I was in Heaven when he finally did, and 6 months of nursing was not long enough for me.
But Jack had other plans. Starting at 8.5 months, he would fight my when I put him near my breast, screaming and crying until I gave him a bottle. If I tried my go-to tricks to get him to latch, he would do it.
And then he’d bite me.
And then unlatch and look me straight in the eye like, “Your move lady. You really want to try that again?”
So at 8 1/2 months, his source of comfort became the bottle.
There were many tears (from both of us) and pleas (from me).
But of the thousands of things you have to get used to as a parent, one is that your child is their own person, and you can’t change that. Jack would take a bottle or starve, so a bottle he got.
A Bottle Comforts More than a Toddler
The simple fact was that, for the longest time, I didn’t want to know how to wean my toddler from the bottle.
I thought he should be off of it, but I didn’t want him off of it. I was as attached as he was.
If I’m being honest, in hindsight, I think I felt like it was the closest possible extension of me. Like me, a bottle still has a nipple. He had drunk my pumped breast milk from a bottle. He could latch onto that nipple for comfort just as he once had done with my own.
And while I may have been jealous of this manufactured piece of rubber, feeling replaced by its sterility, I could still connect Jack’s attachment to his bottle with his attachment to me. I wasn’t ready to lose that.
Failed Plans To Wean From the Bottle
My plan was to wean Jack before he was even a toddler. At a year old, we switched him to whole cow’s milk. I had planned to wean him from the bottle at the same time–all the changes in one fell swoop.
But we were taking him to Italy 2 months later (yes, we’re insane), and I wanted us both to have the comfort of the bottle on the long flight there.
So we kept him on it, and then we were stuck. In the 2 months after I had planned to wean, Jack became much more cognizant of the world around him.
And MUCH more attached to h bisottle as a form of comfort. He took it, insisted upon it, until he was close to 20 months old.
You know what the worst moment of parenting a young toddler is?
When they scream, meltdown, have a fit. Especially if you know it’s really your fault–like when they’re actually hungry because you’re forcing a sippy cup and they aren’t having it.
You know what one of the best things about a toddler who loves the bottle is?
You can hand it to them, and all those problems disappear. Sucking ensues; crying ceases.
Knowing I had this panic button gave me immense comfort. When I tried to get Jack off the bottle at 15 months, the reality is that I wasn’t ready. I still needed the comfort.
Why Do We Feel the Need to Wean Young Toddlers Off the Bottle?
Honestly, and there’s no surprise here. I felt pressured to wean Jack because of other people!
First, there was a stranger in a restaurant. When Jack was 10 months old, but huge, someone in a restaurant asked how old he was. When I answered, he said, “Oh, that makes sense. I thought he seemed old for that bottle, but he’s just big.” *Insert huge eye roll here.*
Then, there were parenting books. We used the Mom’s on Call method for both sleep and nap training.
I’m not going to lie. Mom’s on Call was one of the best decisions we ever made as parents. But they wean babies from bottles at a year. So obviously, by missing that window for our Italy trip, I’d screwed up bigtime.
And then, hilariously, there was my niece. Probably 4 at the time, she sat on my porch swing one day and actually said to Jack, “You’re getting big, Baby Jack. You’re not really a baby now. It’s time we get you off that bottle.”
I happily informed her that she was welcome to wean him if she wanted. She tried taking it away. It lasted about 15 seconds.
When Should My Toddler Be Off the Bottle?
There are so many answers to this question. Like, so many. Let me break it down for you here.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s best to have your toddler off the bottle by 18 months. All the mom guilt I felt when Jack was still on a bottle at this time came rushing in when I found this statistic.
They suggest that you begin cup training and slowly weaning around 12 months, and some methods I’ve seen recommend as early as 9 months.
Of course, as I already said, Mom’s on Call recommends weaning at 12 months.
The reasoning is logical. Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say.
“Prolonged bottle use can cause tooth decay and may encourage your child to drink much more milk than he needs.”
Fair enough. I guess.
But here’s the thing.
You can brush your child’s teeth. You can stop putting them down with a bottle (though I’ll admit that Jack still sleeps with his sippy cup more often than not). You can buy milk that has a higher water content, or you can mix your whole milk with water.
There are plenty of solutions that don’t involve weaning your toddler from the bottle.
When Do Pediatricians Say You Should Wean A Toddler from the Bottle?
Again, this depends on the doctor. I asked our pediatrician, Dr. W., what he thought about it at Jack’s 15-month checkup. He looked at me like he didn’t even understand the question.
“Why do you think he shouldn’t be on a bottle anymore?” Dr. W asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But that’s what I think.”
Dr. W was unconcerned. We talked about milk intake, tooth decay, all the things. Then again I asked, “How old is too old?”
I’m not kidding even a little bit. Dr. W. stared at me, making me feel absolutely insane, chuckled at my concern, and said, “When he puts vodka in it.”
Have I mentioned that I love our pediatrician?
I want to bring up one other point my pediatrician made because it’s how I finally decided to wean Jack.
I laughed at Dr. W’s vodka joke and then asked, almost wanting to cry, “Then how do I know when it’s time to wean him?”
Dr. W’s demeanor changed at my anguish. He switched from comedian to empath.
“Does giving him a bottle still make your life easier?” he asked.
“That’s when you stop. When it no longer makes your life easier.”
How Do I Get My Toddler off the Bottle?
So this is when we stopped. When the bottle was becoming more of a hassle and a toy than a comfort mechanism, I handed Jack a sippy cup one day, and bam, he took it.
We continued bottles at night for a little longer, but within a few weeks, he was on sippy cups entirely.
And at some point, likely before your kid graduates to vodka, you too are going to want to wean them off the bottle. Although I love to envision what it’d have looked like for one of my students to waltz into Freshman English, hungover, toddler bottle in hand.
With that in mind, here are my major tips on how to wean a toddler from the bottle.
(1) Wait until you’re ready
We’ve already spent a lot of time on this, so I won’t talk about it more. But if you’re questioning your readiness, it may not be time.
(2) Wait until your toddler is ready
I’m not exaggerating even a little. When Jack was 15 months old and I was trying to wean him from his toddler bottle, he absolutely refused milk from a sippy cup. Water, sure. Not milk.
If you gave him milk in a sippy cup or straw cup, here’s what would happen:
- He would take a sip, spit the milk out, and make a “yucky” face
- His eyes would cut toward you with some serious stink eye
- He would throw the sippy cup to the ground. (He hadn’t yet learned to throw things across the room. Oh, those were the days.)
- He would jump up, walk to the drawer where bottles were kept, pull one out, and bring it back to you (I know, I know. We could’ve just moved them. But I’m a softy, and Husband is worse.)
- He handed you the bottle, made eye contact, and said, “Duh duh.” (At this age, “duh duh” was Jack speech for “thank you”).
Clearly, young toddler Jack was not ready to be weaned. I could’ve done the cry it out method, and I don’t fault parents who do. But I didn’t have it in me at that time.
He wasn’t ready. It wasn’t time force it.
(3) Wean slowly
Drop certain bottle feedings.
If your kid is on a schedule, you can do this really easily. Remove the bottle for one feeding a day. Then 2.
Then eventually morning.
Always end with night. It’s hardest at night.
(4) Clarify the obsession. Bottle, or milk?
Jack was truly obsessed with the bottle. I learned this because, when I gave him 1/4 whole milk and 3/4 water, he still preferred the bottle to a sippy cup of whole milk.
Many parents, though, have tried this game and quickly discovered that their kids would take the sippy cup in exchange for the better milk. Win-win. Easy weaning.
(5) Try different sippy cups
Not all sippy cups are created equal. Jack still has favorites. Here are a few of our favorites that helped us get off the toddler bottle:
This is the cup that eventually got Jack off the bottle.
This is a fantastic transition cup because it has a big nipple like a bottle, but it’s hard like a sippy cup. It also really doesn’t spill. We’ve never had another cup or bottle that didn’t spill. We still use this cup constantly.
This cup is especially great for kids who do better with handles than cups, and for those who just can’t quite let go of the softness of a bottle nipple. It’s sort of a bottle, sort of a sippy cup. A great stepping stone for littles who need to work their way into the sippy cup.
Not your average sippy cup. Not at all. And that’s what’s great about it. Some kids are so in awe of how different an experience it is than the bottle that they have no problem making the switch. It also helps them learn how to drink from a regular, lidless cup, which is amazing.
Jack likes this cup better now that he’s older, but I know young toddlers who weaned from a bottle very successfully with it.
(6) Try straw cups
For a while, Jack liked straw cups much better than sippy cups.
Our early favorite was the Munchkin Click Lock Weighted Straw Cup. We loved this one because he could tip it, as toddlers are used to doing with their bottles, but still get liquid out.
If your little one can’t drink from a straw yet, consider straw training. It won’t work for every kid, but it worked wonders for Jack. We used the ARK Therapeutic Bear Bottle Kit to Teach Straw Drinking.
It looks adorably like a little jar of honey, and what’s great is its simple design. The two end pieces (the long clear one and the round yellow one) have special mechanisms that I can’t begin to explain.
But basically, once assembled (which takes about 5 seconds), the liquid will stay in the straw. So, you put the drink in the straw and suck it up yourself. Then hand it to tot.
When Jack couldn’t drink from a straw, it was mostly because he didn’t understand the point. It took too much work to get liquid, so he didn’t get why he was supposed to. Smart kid.
With the training straw, he learned that straws provide drink, and he was able to practice sucking within tiring out his jaw. Within a few days, he could drink out of any straw we gave him.
If you’re concerned about your child’s oral development, talking to an occupational therapist about screening is a good idea. Also check out ARK University from ARK Therapeutic, which provides tons of resources for helping children with oral development!
Tips To Wean a Toddler Off the Bottle
That was a lot. Sorry, not sorry. I’ll sum up the major takeaways in the hopes that you don’t have to struggle with this transition as much as I did!
- Check readiness, both yours and your toddler’s. If everyone in the house isn’t as ready as possible, you’re in for a huge fight. And likely a frustrating story about that time we tried to get our toddler off the bottle and it was an epic failure.
- Wean slowly. Don’t take away the bottle outright (unless your kid seems cool with that–that’s actually what eventually worked for Jack). Instead, decrease their use of the bottle, transitioning to sippy cups first mid-day, then in the morning, and last at night.
- Clarify the obsession. If your toddler is attached to the bottle, it’ll be a harder process than if they’re attached to milk
- Try different cups. Not all kids like the same bottles, and not all kids like the same sippy cups. Trying different sippy cups and straw cups might help you find success. Also, having multiple cups on hand allows you to give your child a choice. Instead of insisting they drink from a sippy cup, you can ask the which sippy cup they’d like. If they can choose from 2 cups, they’re more likely to drink from one.
- Be patient. I know it’s hard because toddlers test your patience pretty much all the time. But remember that this is what they’ve known, and suddenly you’re making a big change. It may take them some time to get it.
It’s a process, but I promise, you’ll get there.
What’s your favorite tip for ditching the toddler bottle?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and daughter (Branham). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Love What Matters, & more.