When Josh Shear and his wife were choosing a new daycare for their then 11-month-old son, Matthew, the facility required that he drink from a sippy cup. The couple, of Valparaiso, Ind., began by introducing the new cup at breakfast one morning instead of a bottle.
"He didn't want anything to do with the sippy cup," Shear says. "It was a rough road."
They tried several techniques, Shear says, starting with making the switch as a gradual transition instead of a cold turkey approach. They gave Matthew, now 1½, a soft-tipped cup instead of the hard-tip they started out with and sometimes put a bit of sweet glucose water on the tip to make it more appealing. Ultimately, though, Shear says a bit of "tough love" was the most effective.
"If you need him to take the sippy cup he will take it if that's the only resort," he says, adding that the entire transition took between three and four weeks. "Then the bottle was in the closet and he was on the sippy cup."
Families like the Shears aren't alone.
"Some babies will go on strike completely and not drink milk," says Dr. Lori Walsh, a pediatrician at Glenbrook Pediatrics in Glenview and on staff at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She suggests that parents start the process when their child is 6 months old to get the baby used to the cup, filling it with water so he or she can practice with it. Walsh tells her patients to introduce a straw at 9 months, which helps with speech and mouth muscle development, and to have the child completely off the bottle between 12 and 15 months.
But if your child struggles with this timeline, Walsh offers several suggestions. Sometimes parents find it helpful if they put water in the bottle and milk in the sippy cup, to disassociate milk from the bottle. And if it's the cow's milk your child is rejecting, mix formula and the new milk over the course of two days.
Try keeping only one bottle during the day, either in the morning or the evening, Walsh says, but fill it with less formula. If you choose to get rid of the evening bottle, she cautions, you'll need to come up with a new bedtime routine instead of the bottle ritual, like cuddling up with a favorite blanket or stuffed toy.
If these tricks still don't have your baby off the bottle, Walsh suggests trying to go cold turkey, while incorporating calcium in other ways, like adding milk to oatmeal or serving yogurt. Sometimes putting an ice cube in the milk is appealing to babies who like the sound of it in the cup, while others enjoy drinking out of a straw. "There are a lot of ways to do the same thing," Walsh says. "Ask your pediatrician if you're stuck."
While the techniques can vary, what's important is that you eventually make the transition. If babies fill up on cow's milk the way they did with formula, they may become uninterested in eating their meals, creating problems with iron deficiency.
Also, after 12 months, children shouldn't have any sugar after brushing their teeth at night, including the bottle, to prevent tooth decay.
And, along with these potential problems, the bottom line is that the longer you wait, the more difficult it can become to wean your child off the bottle.
"We all need some deadlines to make things happen," Walsh says. "It just gets harder and harder. Babies turn into toddlers and toddlers have a mind of their own."
Laura Schocker is a graduate student at Northwestern University and a Chicago Parent intern.