The bad news about weaning your baby off of a bottle is that you're probably going to find yourself dealing with an angry, cup-resistant little being, at least for a while. The good news outweighs the bad, though, because introducing your child to drinking cups reduces her risk of tooth decay and helps her develop self-feeding skills. The weaning process can be slow and frustrating, but when babies are involved, aren't most things?
When to Wean
Tossing out all your baby's bottles and replacing them with cups is an effective way to make your life incredibly difficult. Weaning her off of bottles should be done over the course of months for the smoothest and most developmentally appropriate transition. You can try giving your child a sippy cup to drink out of as early as 6 months, but she probably won't be able to maneuver an open cup to her mouth and back to the table again without spilling by the time until she's at least 12 months old or so. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be completely weaned off of bottles by the time they're 15 months old.
Signs She's Ready
Even if you're convinced your baby is gifted, she's not going to have the strength and coordination to drink exclusively out of cups at 6 months old. Though it's wise to start getting her used to cups at this age, you need to wait until she's physically able before beginning to wean her in earnest. According to the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, your baby is ready to move away from the bottle when she can sit up by herself and can eat from a spoon. Before you start giving her open cups, pay attention to how she holds her bottle and sippy cups; if she drops them frequently, she'll do the same to a cup but with far messier results.
How to Wean
Start by giving your baby breast milk or formula in a sippy cup for one feeding per day. You might start with one-a-day cup feedings when she's 6 months old, but starting at 8 or 10 months old is fine too. Slowly increase the number of sippy cup feedings per day until she's drinking entirely out of sippy cups by her first birthday. To keep bedtime comforting and stress-free for as long as possible, keep using a bottle for the final feeding of the day until she's comfortable using a cup for all other feedings. Since 12 months old is when pediatricians recommend introducing cow's milk, switching to an open cup might be too much change all at once. Waiting to introduce open cups until she's 13 or 14 months old might be easiest. Again, slowly transition from sippy cups to open cups, one feeding at a time.
Tips for Success
While sippy cups are far easier for a baby to use than open cups, it doesn't hurt to try open cups every now and then, even before her first birthday. Whenever she's drinking from an open cup, she'll need your help holding and tilting the cup so she can learn how much force is necessary to get liquid into her mouth without splashing it everywhere. Praise her for every successful drink from a "big girl" cup, and make her a part of the process by letting her pick the cup she uses for each feeding. Another sneaky but successful trick to try, courtesy of KidsHealth.org, is to dilute her bottle feedings with water when you're first starting out. Continue serving undiluted breast milk or formula in her cup so she'll learn to prefer the drinks that come in cups.