Your baby's beloved Binky may actually reduce the risk of SIDS (the sucking activity keeps her from sleeping too deeply), which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using it at naptime and bedtime for the first year. But prolonged pacifier use can lead to ear infections or alterations to your child's bite.
When to wean: Pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., says it's ideal to wean your toddler off her pacifier between 8 and 12 months. Replace the pacifier with a small blanket or stuffed animal.
How to do it: For babies, most pediatricians recommend cold turkey. In the long run it's easier on both you and your baby. After about age 2, do it gradually. Start by limiting its use to certain places (bed), then only during certain times (sleep), until it's gone for good.
No More Bottle
Toddlers who drink from a bottle for too long tend to consume more milk than necessary, says pediatrician Laura Jana, M.D. This may lead to loss of appetite, consumption of too many calories from liquid, or cavity risk.
When to wean: Between 12 and 15 months, says Dr. Jana, which is when babies can drink well enough from a sippy cup. If you wait more than 18 months, the bottle will become a habit and your child will cling to it even harder.
How to do it: Introduce the sippy between 6 and 9 months -- with milk or formula and not just water or juice. Around 12 months, once your child has mastered the cup, tell your child that she is a big kid and that she gets to use a cup instead of a bottle all the time now. If you can't go cold turkey, eliminate one bottle-feeding at a time, starting with the bedtime bottle.
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Weaning Off Nursing
The biggest decision with breastfeeding isn't whether the baby is ready to stop -- it's whether the parent is, says New York City lactation consultant Melissa Nagin.
When to wean: Aim to nurse exclusively for the first 6 months, as advised by The American Academy of Pediatrics, and to continue some nursing for at least the first year.
How to do it: Make sure your baby masters using a bottle or a sippy cup with expressed milk, formula, or a combination of the two well before you begin. For easy transition, replace one breastfeeding with a bottle or cup every four to seven days. When you're ready to drop the pre-bedtime feeding, establish new routines so that having a bath or hearing a story -- rather than nursing -- is the last activity of the evening.
Retiring the Swaddle Blanket
Wrapping your baby up like a burrito, which limits the startle reflex, may help infants stay asleep on their backs and possibly lower the risk of SIDS, says pediatrician Harvey Karp, M.D.
When to wean: Some babies are ready to give up their wrapping around 4 months, while others need until 6 to 8 months to make the transition. Obviously, if your baby wakes himself up trying to get free of the swaddle blanket, that means he's outgrown it.
How to do it: Gradually. First wrap your baby toga-style by leaving one arm free. If he sleeps well this way for a night or two, then unwrap him completely. If not, put the arm back in and try the one-arm wrap again next month. One more thing to try: Playing a white-noise CD all night helps babies wean earlier and sleep well for many more months.
Originally published in Parents magazine.