The goal is to have our children off the bottle by their first birthday. That doesn’t always happen. Here are a few insights on why we need to get them off as well as tips on getting them there.
Typically what is given in the bottle contains sugar, like milk or formula (or heaven forbid juice), which is left sitting in the child’s mouth, already risking decay. At this point, they should already be getting their teeth and gums washed with a wet washcloth or soft toothbrush. But even so, they are at increased risk of childhood tooth decay, tooth pain, and cavities by having anything other than water in the bottle. The act of sucking on the bottle over time can also cause crooked permanent teeth. Yes, they get two sets of teeth, but unfortunately, the damage to the first set still greatly affects the second. Decayed first teeth likely go deeper already affecting the second set before they’re even seen. Crooked first teeth cause the second set to potentially come in crooked. Being on the bottle after the first birthday can cause ear and speech problems, poor eating habits, and even developmental delays. Being off the bottle encourages independence, developed coordination, and promotes dental health.
If possible, get rid of the bottle completely after the first birthday, toss it. Out of sight, out of mind. They won’t see it and be more tempted to ask for it, and you won’t be tempted to give it. If that doesn’t seem like a possibility, try these other tips. Every child is different, and you as their parent will know what might work best for them.
- Some stores carry a ‘transition to cup’ kit that contains a few tops that have nipples that start soft like a bottle and progress to a harder top like a sippy cup. This can help those that need a very gradual transition.
- The risks of being on the bottle stated above include doing the bottle AND doing a sugar liquid in the bottle like milk or formula. If we begin to only offer water in the bottle and no longer put milk in it, we are nixing the risk of sugar in the bottle and we’ve gotten rid of some risks at least. It’s better to nix some of the many risks than none at all. When some of my clients begin doing only water in the bottle, usually the child ends up losing interest in it all together anyway.
- If they’re used to the hold of the bottle, take the nipple out of the top and still offer the bottle. You just turned that bottle into a cup with a wide open mouth. I’d recommend this over cutting a large hole in the nipple, because with a widened hole, they’ll still be holding the bottle in their mouths and having the sugars just run over their teeth and gums. With taking the nipple out completely, they’ll only be able to use it like a cup.
- Let them get excited about the cup. Praise them whenever they use it, telling them how proud you are of them. For the older toddlers still on the bottle, take them to the store and pick out their favorite cup, pick up stickers with their favorite movie character on them or sparkly stars, puffy paint, or whatever you think they’d like. Come home, sit them at the table, and let them decorate their very own sippy cup. That bottle becomes boring old news.
- It may sound harsh, but some parents swear by this. Put something nasty and bitter on the nipple of the bottle every time they ask for it, such as lemon juice or pepper or something you know they don’t like.
- If all else fails, don’t offer milk anymore until they’re ready to drink it from a bottle. Children need 16oz of milk a day. Keep in mind milk isn’t only in “milk” form. If they are getting a serving of cheese and a yogurt in the day, they’re set. If we’re taking milk out of the diet, we can cook with milk, offer dairy in other sources, or sneak it in to homemade fresh fruit smoothies. They don’t actually need to be drinking straight milk persay.
Whatever way you choose to try and work on gradually, there are three things to do immediately. If you are offering anything other than milk or water in the bottle, stop. If you are giving juice or other sugar beverages in it, it’ll only increase their risk of dental problems and will only attach them to it more. If you are resorting to putting chocolate or strawberry syrup in the milk 2-3 times a day to get them to drink it from the cup, stop. As stated, it’s better to not do straight milk at all then to start a new bad habit. If you’re letting them fall asleep with the bottle in their mouth, stop. After just a few short hours of snooze time, acid from the sugar in milk will already start to effect teeth and could start decay. You’d be surprised how many two year olds I have in my office who already have decayed hour-glass shaped teeth, sometimes already cavity filled and broken down from falling asleep with the bottle of milk. Make sure when they drink and are ready for bed, you’re wiping the sugars off their gums, tongue and teeth before they actually fall asleep. The sooner they’re off the bottle, the better. The longer they’re on it, the more attached they’ll get to it.
Good luck and let the weaning begin!