If you're the parent of a growing toddler, you've probably already had your share of bottle-weaning battles -- so many, perhaps, that the idea of sending him off to preschool bottle in mouth no longer seems so unthinkable.
But don't give up the fight. Most pediatricians recommend discontinuing the bottle at 12 months -- 18 months at the very latest. "Milk should not be a 1-year-old's primary source of nutrition," says Greg Wilson, M.D., a developmental pediatrician at Indiana University's Riley Hospital for Children, in Indianapolis. "Half of her calories should come from solid food. Although milk is important for supplying calcium, it lacks adequate iron and other vital nutrients, and too much may spoil a child's appetite for solid food." Because cup drinkers consume less liquid than bottle drinkers, switching from a bottle to a cup helps keep the balance of liquids and solids in check.
Bottles -- especially when they are used as a sleep aid -- are also the chief culprit behind tooth decay in children. "If a baby falls asleep with a bottle in her mouth, the milk or fruit juice immerses the teeth in sugar, feeding bacteria that cause cavities," says Douglas Gregory, M.D., a pediatrician in Suffolk, Virginia. A child who has a bottle in bed and drinks in a fully reclined position may also be at greater risk for ear infections.
Health issues aside, there are other reasons why this is the perfect age for bottle-weaning. Your baby-turned-toddler is likely striving for independence. She's learning to walk, talk, and feed herself; developmentally, she's primed for mastering the use of a cup and giving up her bottle for good.
Making the switch, of course, is harder than it seems. "Sucking is one of the first ways a child learns to soothe himself," says Dr. Wilson. "For him, giving up his bottle is giving up a source of real comfort." So how do you make the transition without making yourself and your child miserable? Here, are four simple steps.