Some children will wean from their bottles easily, while others will have become more attached and fight giving it up. If possible, it's best to wean babies by the age of 15 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. When that doesn't happen though, don't worry. Weaning older toddlers can be a bit of a challenge, but as long as parents are consistent and firm, it can be accomplished.
Why Weaning Is Important
Toddlers should be weaned as young as they can be. When a baby is fed a bottle, the parent generally takes the bottle out as soon as the child is done drinking. With toddlers, however, bottles are more likely to be carried around and consumed slowly. According to the Michigan State University College of Nursing, using a bottle into the toddler years can damage baby teeth by causing cavities due to having fluids sit in the mouth for long periods. Toddlers that are still using bottles also tend to consume more milk than toddlers that drink from cups. Toddlers need only about 16 to 24 oz of milk per day. Drinking excessive amounts of milk can decrease the appetite for solid food in toddlers.
It's important to prepare toddlers before weaning. Explain that the child is a big boy or girl now and is ready to stop using a bottle. Go shopping and let the child pick out her own cups so she feels more excited and part of the process. Before taking away the bottle, let her get used to the cup by playing with it in the tub or sink, so she sees how to fill it and pour water out of it and becomes comfortable with cups.
Gradual Toddler Weaning
Explain to the child that the time has come to switch to cups instead of bottles. Replace one bottle each day with a cup of milk or juice or a snack instead, starting with the least important bottle, usually one in the middle of the day. After a few days, replace another bottle. The last bottle to go should be the bottle before bed, because this is often the one toddlers are most attached to. Each time the child holds his cup or drinks from it, make sure to praise him.
For some children, going cold turkey is the only way. Toddlers who are very attached to the bottle may find the slow weaning process too painful. To do this, start the same as gradual weaning, explaining why it's time and letting the child pick out her own cup. Choose a day and, starting in the morning, offer liquids only in a cup, no bottles whatsoever. During this time, make sure to give the child as much extra love and attention as possible, and consider offering a small reward for each day the child successfully goes without the bottle, like a trip to the park or special snack.