You know it’s time, but you’re feeling hesitant and unsure about how to wean your toddler off of bottles. Or maybe you don’t really want to, but you know you’re supposed to? Keep reading to learn how I coach my nutrition clients as a registered pediatric dietitian to drop bottles and make sure they’re still getting the right nutrition. PLUS, you’ll learn the #1 key to a quicker transition.
Why is weaning so hard?
Let’s jump right in and talk about bottles. This is one of those topics that can make your mama bear claws come out. It can be very emotional, and it’s okay if it brings up those feelings for you! Weaning your toddler off of bottles can be upsetting for both the toddler and parents. You may be worried they aren’t ready or don’t want to let go of that piece of babyhood. Maybe they *really* love their bottle and you hate the thought of taking it away from them.
It doesn’t have to be this thing where you’re the big bad meanie taking away this thing that they love and comforts them. You can make this transition in a way where you still provide lots of love and comfort along the way.
First, let’s go over why we even need to do this in the first place. Then, I’ll walk you step-by-step with guidelines to help you painlessly get rid of bottles for your toddler.
Why should you wean your toddler off of bottles?
Here are the top four reasons you need to wean your little one:
- Tooth Decay: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends eliminating bottles around 12 months, and definitely by 18 months. Prolonged bottle use can cause cavities, especially if the toddler takes the bottle to bed OR has it frequently throughout the day.
- Potential Orthodontic Issues: Board-certified pediatric Dentist Dr. Erin Issac says, “The tongue is an extremely strong muscle, and it pushing against the nipple on the bottle can cause the moldable bones of the palate to take the shape of the bottle nipple. This causes crowding of teeth and can even change the shape of the upper jaw and palate.” Note – this is with prolonged bottle usage, past 18 months. It’s okay to use bottles for babies without concern about these issues.
- Drinking More than Necessary: I hear parents say, “they don’t drink as much as they used to, so I think they need the bottle to get what they need.” When in fact, it’s usually the opposite that needs to happen. From a nutrition standpoint, a toddler’s primary nutrition should come from eating table foods. Just because your toddler isn’t drinking as much does not mean they aren’t getting what they need. Liquid flows from a bottle quicker than drinking from a cup, so it’s very easy to drink more than they actually need from a bottle. Toddlers 12 months and up only need about 12-20oz milk total per day.
- Prolonged bottle use could lead to picky eating. I see this often with my clients. Frequently, a toddler will place preference on a bottle because it’s easier. Then, you’ll typically get stuck in a cycle where they will reject the food you offer if they know they can have a bottle later.
How do you wean your toddler off of bottles?
Alright, so you’re convinced it’s important to get rid of your toddler’s bottles, but how do you actually do it? Here is my step-by-step guide:
- Establish a schedule of meals and snacks. For one to three-year-olds, this usually means three meals and two snacks a day. We need to have that routine in place to make sure they have enough opportunities to eat when you’re getting rid of bottles.
- If you’re looking for a one-year-old feeding schedule, click here to see a blog post that lays out what their schedule should look like and how it works with nap times.
- Eliminate any midday bottles first. They are typically the easiest to drop while you’re adjusting their feeding schedule.
- Prepare them for the transition. You know your child best. If they typically ask for a bottle or really love it, I would prepare them ahead of time. Maybe your toddler is indifferent about bottles and doesn’t notice you taking away their midday bottles, you might be able to cut them out without much fanfare.
- To prepare your toddler, start talking a few days in advance about what is going to happen. You might say something like, “We’re going to say “bye” to bottles because you’re a big kid now, and bottles are for babies. We will even have a little party!”
- Toddlers love to have control. Give your toddler the option to choose the cup they would like to use for their milk instead of the bottle. Straw cups or open cups are the best. Click here to see some of my favorites.
- Pick a date to have the bye-bye bottle party! This does not have to be a big event. You can just sing and dance to say bye-bye to the bottles and maybe bang on some toy instruments. Invite your toddler to help you pack up the bottles for another baby (even if you’re not planning on using them again). It helps them to see the purpose of the bottle and that they are going away.
- It’s okay if they get upset about saying bye-bye to their bottles. Don’t abandon ship! Take some time and comfort them. I struggle with this, too, as a mom. I just want to jump in and fix whatever they’re upset about and give in to them. However, it’s not our job to prevent them from feeling any pain or sadness. Our job as their parents is to help them develop the skills to cope with the painful and sad moments.
- Replace any bedtime bottles with extra snuggles as you calmly remind them (if they ask for or demand them) that their bottles are gone. Let them know that it’s okay to be sad and miss their bottle. It’s hard to do new things.
- You may be wondering, should I give them milk in a cup at bedtime instead? Most toddlers get what they need and can sleep through the night without milk right before bed. They have matured past the baby stage where their belly is SO tiny and can’t stay full through the night. If dinner is less than 2 hours before bed, they do not need anything else before bed. If dinner is 2 hours or more before bed, you may consider adding a bedtime snack to the daily routine. This can be milk or it can be something simple like a cheese stick, a banana, or a handful of crackers.
- If your toddler is reliant on a bottle to fall asleep, I recommend checking out Little Z’s Sleep programs. Click here for more information.
Here’s the #1 key for a quicker transition
To help this transition go smoothly, you must stay consistent.
I promise it’s better for everyone if you lock the bottles away or give them away. If you just put them away in a cabinet, you’re going to be tempted to get them back out in a weak moment. It happens to the best of us. Put them AWAY away, in a place that doesn’t give you the option to give in to your toddler’s demands. If they know it’s still an option, it’s going to make a longer transition. Not to mention the drain on you if you’re thinking, “should I, shouldn’t I…” No. Just get them out of sight and out of mind for a clean break.
Here are some FAQs
Q: Do I drop bottles and switch to cow’s milk at the same time?
A: Generally yes- if your toddler is around 12 months, I would serve milk in a cup with meals. Around 16-20oz per day is a good place to be.
Q: What about breastfeeding?
A: Yes, you can continue breastfeeding. As long as you’re still producing milk and if you’re not ready, you don’t have to give up at 12 months. Breastfeeding is a personal decision. If you’re pumping, I recommend moving to put the milk into a cup instead of a bottle. Keep in mind good dental hygiene, even if you’re solely breastfeeding.
Q: What about toddler formula or toddler milk?
A: In some cases, your little one may benefit from the extra nutrition in toddler formula or toddler milk. For many toddlers, it’s not necessary. Discuss with your pediatrician if you have questions. Either way, they can drink this from a cup rather than a bottle.
Q: What kind of cups should I use?
A: Pediatricians and speech pathologists recommend either an open cup or a straw cup. Click here to see some of my favorites.
One Important Reminder to Wean Your Toddler Off Bottles
Remember, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and if this approach doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, that’s okay! I have received plenty of messages from parents that have said it worked for their toddler. I hope the same is true for you!
Worn Out from Meal Time?
If all of this makes you tired just thinking about it, you probably need my Dinnertime Survival Guide. It’s a 6-week weeknight meal plan with healthy, toddler-friendly shortcut meals you can make in 15 minutes or less. Click here to grab a copy!
Monique Maas · June 21, 2021 at 7:27 pm
My 2.5 year old is addicted to the bottle, he loves to go to bed with milk. I’m trying to quit the bottle as he is a terrible eater and I believe the bottle is the issue for his picky eating.
He hasn’t eaten lunch so I have put him to bed but I know he’s hungry but he’s expecting the bottle (I can hear him yelling for it), how do I manage this knowing he’s hungry. It’s just so easy to give in and give him the bottle, he will sleep well and have a full tummy……
Jeff · October 19, 2022 at 1:02 am
Just curious if you’ve resolved his and how?I have a 2 year old doing the same thing
Rayna · December 3, 2022 at 7:02 pm
I have the same problem! I never linked the picky eating to the bottle until now. It feels even more crucial to wean her off the bottle knowing this. I’m living in a multi-generational household and my dad does NOT put up with crying at night. He demands I do whatever is necessary to make her stop. This makes it even harder to wean her off the bottle and do things how I want to.