The tasks of weaning a child from the bottle and the pacifier are challenges most parents face eventually. When to do so is the question.
As the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child should be weaned from the bottle by 15 months of age, though it is advisable to check with the child’s pediatrician if there are important concerns about the child’s health or nutrition.
One very important reason to wean off the bottle early is to avoid dental problems. Sustained bottle drinking can damage teeth as most liquids other than water can possibly decalcify teeth and lead to cavities. Additionally, potential dental deformities and alignment problems may also occur with prolonged bottle use. These issues alone are concerning, but there are many more reasons to wean children from a bottle early on.
Most healthy children, by the time they are 12 months old, usually have the skills to sit up, hold a cup and drink from it, and eat solid foods. This is when the bottle is not needed for nutrition. As bottle drinkers may drink more milk than necessary, it can interfere with the child’s appetite. That can lead to children not wanting to eat enough solid foods. In addition to the nutritional risks, there are potential developmental problems. A child can miss out on important developmental experiences associated with eating and feeding such as learning to chew efficiently, self-feeding skills, and tolerating a variety of sensory experiences related to eating.
The keys for weaning from pacifiers are like weaning from bottles. Along dental concerns, pacifiers can also interfere with speech development. Children may not say words when they otherwise would have if their mouth was not blocked by the pacifier. If children do try to speak with their pacifier, they cannot correctly practice the mouth and tongue movements needed to make their words come out correctly.
Though health and development of your child is a motivating factor to wean from the bottle and pacifier, power struggles and tantrums are also motivating. Children at 12 months old are less stubborn and take more of an interest in pleasing others than kids even 6 months older at 18 months. As children grow older, they develop more independence and emotional attachments. They may develop a stronger emotional attachment to their bottle/pacifier and will likely resist attempts to wean. If parents wait until 18 months to wean, the battles will be more intense.
Tips for weaning off the bottle and pacifier
Starting somewhere between 6 and 9 months, let children drink from a sippy cup (or at least hold and play with it) so when the bottle is gone, they will already be acquainted with the cup. Using a cup as a toy during bath time is a great way for children to practice holding a cup. That way, if the child spills the mess will pour right into the tub. When parents are introducing and offering a cup, offer all types of liquids in the cup.
Once families are ready take away the bottle, they can start by decreasing the number of bottles offered one at a time and replacing them with a cup or snack. Start by eliminating the least important bottles first. This is usually during the middle of the day. Kids may be more motivated to drink from their cup if it is more appealing to them. Bedtime bottles are typically the most difficult to eliminate. For bedtime bottle weaning, try first reducing the amount in the bottle. If the child wants more to drink, the bottle can be replaced by a cup. Replacing the comfort factor of the bottle at bedtimes can be tricky. Families could try to use toys or stuffed objects and provide other comforting activities during the bedtime routine such as reading a story.
Similar strategies to wean children off their pacifier. Offering an alternative for comfort such as a blanket, toy or cuddling may help this transition. It is important that once a child is weaned from bottles and pacifiers that they are removed from sight. This may mean throwing them away or donating them. In some instances, families may wish to save these items for future children or family members. In these instances, it is important the bottles and pacifiers are packed away where the children will not see them, and the caregivers will not be tempted to bring them back out.
The weaning process may be easy for some and difficult for others. Avoid extra and unnecessary road blocks by starting the weaning process early. The benefits of weaning early definitely outweigh the risks of prolonged bottle and pacifier use. If families have questions along the way they can always ask their pediatrician, dentist or early intervention providers for support and advice.
At T's Learning Center, serving Jacksonville and surrounding areas with top-rated childcare facilities, works with you when the time comes to wean your child from the bottle and the pacifier. Our goal is to make the change easier for you and the child.