Updated: Mar 13, 2020
Many bottle-fed babies get attached to the bottle as if its another appendage on their bodies. It can be extremely hard to #wean them off of it when the time comes. Our son had decided around 6 months that he preferred the bottle over breast. This is where his attachment to the bottle started.
I had gotten into the habit of preparing his bottles when I heard him waking, because it was easier to make without him crying at my feet waiting for it. I'd have it sitting on the coffee table ready for him when I'd bring him out from bed. It got to the point that as soon as we'd near the end of the hallway, he'd lean over to look around the corner and see if it was there. As soon as he'd see it, he'd reach for it and make urgent sounds, trying to convince me to get there faster. If he didn't see the bottle sitting there on the coffee table, a meltdown would ensue. Needless to say, he was attached.
I had decided that I wanted to wean him off of the bottle around age 1. He had finally started to eat more and more solid food, so I was confident we were ready to start the process. I had an idea for a simple way to do this, so I tried it out and it worked. We went from him having multiple bottles a day to no more bottles in just a few days! The best part is there were no tears! Here are my tips and one simple trick I did to wean him quickly.
Start a Cup Early
First of all, when you're going to wean off the bottle, you need to have another option for him. You want him to have an alternative before you start the weaning process. Don't expect him to just all of a sudden start drinking out of a cup right away. There are many different options, sippy cups, straw cups, 360 cups, etc., and different babies might have different preferences. It can also take some time for them to learn how to use a new cup. We started giving Gideon water in a cup at 6 months with his solid food. He still got his formula in a bottle, but we'd offer his water cup every time he had food.
At first, he couldn't quite figure it out. We started with a regular sippy cup, and he was just biting it. Then we tried a weighted straw cup. Same thing...he had no idea what to do with it. One night, my husband tipped the cup upside down like he would drink from a bottle, and he immediately started sucking on the straw. Once he figured out that sucking on it gave him something, he was good to go from then on. He quickly became a champ at drinking from his straw cup!
Start Offering Formula in the Cup
If you want your little one to eventually drink milk, or whatever substitute you choose, then start offering his formula or breast milk in the cup. Our little guy had only ever drank water out of his cup, so he wasn't used to anything else. A few weeks before weaning, I began to offer his milk in his cup (we used Ripple because he's allergic to cow's milk), while still offering his main feeds in the bottle. At first, he would only take a few sips of the milk out of his cup before tossing it to the side. I just kept offering it, trying to get him more and more used to it.
Start with a Mix
A lot of babies will have tummy troubles if you switch from breast milk or formula cold turkey to regular milk or a substitute. Before you're ready to completely wean, start giving a mixture. For example, if your baby is drinking 7 ounces of formula at a time, start giving 6 ounces of formula and 1 ounce of milk, mixed together. Gradually decrease the amount of formula and increase the amount of milk until you have completely taken the formula out.
Keep in mind that if your baby is used to drinking 7 ounces of formula, 7 ounces of regular milk might be too much for one sitting. What I did was gradually increase until he was having about 4 ounces of milk. Then I just kept decreasing the formula without increasing the milk, so he was just taking in a little less. He was eating more and more solid food by this time to compensate. If you feed your little one breast milk in a bottle, then you're likely not giving that many ounces and wouldn't have to worry about this. (If you aren't sure whether your child is eating enough solid food to wean, check with your pediatrician.)
And Now...The Secret Trick!
You start a newborn on a Size 0 bottle nipple. As he gets older and is able to handle more flow at a time, you increase the nipple size. Gideon was on a Size 3 as we were nearing one year. About a week or so before I wanted to cut off the bottle, I simply started going backwards in nipple size every few days. I figured maybe if I gradually took him back to 0, he would increasingly get annoyed with the bottle because he'd have to work harder and wouldn't be able to get as much out.
At the same time, I continued offering his milk/formula mixture in his cup. I had hoped he would just get frustrated with the bottle and choose to drink from the cup. It worked! The best part about this trick is that I didn't have to be "the bad guy". I wasn't refusing to give him his bottle, which is why there were no tears. I still offered it as normal, there was just something wrong with it all of a sudden, oh no! In the end, it was his choice to give it up, so he didn't put up a fight about it.
I didn't even have to take him all the way to 0. By the time we got to Size 1, he wasn't drinking the whole bottle. He'd drink some, then take the bottle out and play with it or offer me some (that was a fun game he liked to play). After a day on Size 1, he wasn't drinking much from it at all. I then just gave him food and his cup and he was as happy as a clam! The next day, I didn't offer the bottle at all and he was fine with it.
There were a couple of days when he'd still look around the corner for his bottle and whine when he didn't see it. However, as soon as I'd give him his cup and food, he'd be fine. After a few days, he stopped expecting it. We haven't looked back since!
Preparation and backwards thinking could be just what you need to wean your little one off the bottle with no tears!
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant