Weaning from Bottle or Breast

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Weaning from Bottle or Breast

Guiding Your Child Through The Early Years
Growth and Nutrition
Weaning from Bottle or Breast
Weaning from Bottle or Breast
Learn when and how to wean your child from the bottle or breast.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Weaning from Bottle or Breast

Breast milk or formula in proper amounts can supply newborn babies with all the nutrition they need for their first 6 months of life. After 6 months of age, babies begin to eat solid foods, such as cereal, fruits and vegetables. As they start eating solids more routinely, babies tend not to drink as much breast milk or formula each day. Babies progressively make the transition from the breast or bottle to the cup, and finally drink all of their liquids from a cup.

The first step in the weaning process is the introduction of the cup. After your toddler has mastered the cup, you can then wean her off the bottle or breast.

Introducing a Cup

You can introduce a cup as soon as your baby can sit unsupported, usually around 9 months. Start with a cup that has handles for your toddler to hold onto. Toddlers can learn to drink from a regular cup, but many parents choose one with handles, a spout and a snap-on lid ("sippy" cup) to minimize spills. It is initially best to put only a small amount (1/2 to 1 ounce) of breast milk or formula in the cup and offer it at one meal a day. Don't worry if your child treats the cup as a toy and tips it over. Eventually, he will get some of the liquid into his mouth. As he gets better at drinking from the cup, you can gradually put in more liquid and offer it more times during the day.

It is OK to start offering a cup with water or juice, but this can delay the weaning process because some children then think the bottle (or breast) is for milk and the cup is for other things.

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Weaning from the Breast

When should you wean from the breast? Pediatricians and nutritionists strongly recommend that you continue to breastfeed your baby until her first birthday or longer. Friends and relatives may have their own opinions about the appropriate length of time for breastfeeding. Ultimately, the "right" time to wean is when you and your baby are ready.

The decision to wean can be a difficult one, often filled with mixed emotions. Many mothers are excited to see their baby growing up, but also saddened by the loss of this special time together. In many cases, a mother and her baby are not ready to wean at the same time. Mothers may decide to wean because they are returning to work and don't want to pump breast milk; babies may lose interest in breastfeeding around 9 to 12 months or after they learn to drink from a cup.

Regardless of the reason, once you (or your baby) have decided to wean, plan to do so slowly, over several weeks. If you gradually give up breastfeeding, your body will decrease its milk production and your breasts will become less engorged (swollen). If you suddenly stop breastfeeding, your breasts may become painfully engorged and you may get a breast infection (mastitis). If you must stop breastfeeding suddenly for medical or other reasons, consult with your doctor or a lactation specialist for assistance.

You can wean your baby from the breast to a bottle. However, if your baby is old enough, consider weaning directly to a cup so that you do not have to wean from the bottle later on.

Start by replacing one breastfeeding with a cup- or bottle-feeding. Many mothers start with one of the middle of the day feedings. Wait a few days or even a few weeks before replacing another feeding.

Some babies initially will not accept a bottle or cup from their mother, since they associate her with breastfeeding. In this case, have dad or another caregiver offer the bottle. You also can try a position other than the usual breast-feeding position; for example, give the bottle or cup while the baby is in the highchair.

You may want to give a cup or bottle for certain feedings, but not want to wean completely. Your body can adjust to this schedule. Some mothers choose to stop breastfeeding during the day when they return to work, but continue nursing in the morning and at bedtime for several more months, until their babies are no longer interested.

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Weaning from the Bottle

In general, it is a good idea to plan to stop giving the bottle around 12 months of age. Once children have teeth, using bottles, especially at bedtime, can lead to cavities. The earlier you start the process, the easier it will be. However, all toddlers are different; some switch from the bottle to the cup easily, while others want to hold onto that bottle for dear life!

Don't be surprised if it takes several months to wean your child completely off the bottle. Let your toddler's interest in the cup guide you. Expect setbacks. For example, when your child has a cold or cough, he may ask for a bottle because it is more comforting and familiar to him. Try to be flexible and let your toddler develop according to his own schedule.

It is also common for a toddler to be reluctant to give up the last bottle-feeding before bedtime. Toddlers like routines, and the bedtime bottle is often part of a soothing bedtime ritual that includes cuddling with mom or dad. Most toddlers do not actually need the nutrition of a bedtime bottle and can easily sleep through the night without it. You may want to first offer a bedtime bottle with water instead of milk, and then switch to water from a cup. If your child drinks anything other than water after you have brushed his teeth before bed, you should brush his teeth again. Sugars from milk or juice left in the mouth while sleeping can cause cavities.

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Last updated August 08, 2014

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