When Babies Should Kick Their Habits

All good things must come to an end, and no matter how much your baby loves his binky, bottle, or stroller, at some point you'll have to figure out a way to help him say sayonara, old friend!

  • Veer

    Pacifier

    Give it up when...
    Your child is 2, but there's no need to rush things before that age. The American Academy of Pediatrics now encourages pacifier use as a way for babies to soothe themselves and as a tactic for possibly reducing the risk for SIDS, points out Robin Goldstein, PhD, author of The Parenting Bible. The jury is still out on whether pacis, if they linger into the toddler years, cause dental problems or speech delays.

    Here's how
    Happily announce to your child that the pacifier now lives in the crib, and if she wants it, she has to climb in there with it. (Bonus: this gives her a great incentive to go to bed at night!) When you sense your child is ready to give it up altogether, a visit from the Binky Fairy may be in order. Just remember: don't go cold turkey when your child is in the middle of another major transition, like potty training because she will need even more comfort at those times.

  • Bryan McCay

    Bottle

    Give it up when...
    She has mastered the sippy cup, between 12 and 18 months. There's no harm in using a nighttime bottle up to age 2, (as long as you don't let her fall asleep with a juice- or milk-filled bottle in her mouth, which could cause tooth decay). But letting your child hang on to the bottle for daytime feedings can be counterproductive, Dr. Unger says. "If toddlers are drinking too much milk from the bottle, they may not be interested in eating other nutritious foods they need," she points out. The perfect time to introduce the sippy is around 9 months, when babies become very insistent on doing things by themselves.

    Here's how
    Start by choosing a cup that's easy to hold and doesn't leak, O'Brien says. Then casually introduce the cup by putting it on the tray like it's a new food, and let your baby play with it for a while. Yes, there will be spills, and you'll spend lots of time picking the cup up off the floor, drinking from a cup takes practice. Once your toddler gets used to it, you can gradually eliminate the bottle. keep in mind that it's usually much easier to phase out the bottle at 12 or 18 months than it will be at age 2, when your child has a better memory and is more stubborn.

  • Naked Time

    Give it up when...
    You start asking yourself, Hmm, is it weird for my child to run around the house without a stitch of clothes on? True, there is nothing cuter than a naked baby running through the house screaming, "I'm the tushy fairy!" But by age 5 or 6, your kids should develop a sense of modesty and cover up, Goldstein says.

    Here's how
    Tell your child, "It's fine to be naked when you're getting dressed or ready for your bath, but in any other room in the house, you need to have at least a T-shirt and underpants on." Then take her to the store and let her pick out the fluffiest, cutest kitten-adorned bathrobe she can find.

  • Move out of the crib

    Give it up when...
    He's getting too big and active for the crib or he's climbing out of it. Ideally, wait until age 3, says Jodi Mindell, PhD, associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night. Even children who were champion snoozers in the crib can start having sleep problems if they move to a bed before they're ready. "Unlike a crib, a bed has no real boundaries, and your child needs to understand that she has to stay put," Mindell says.

    Here's how
    First, test his readiness by dropping the side of the crib for a few nights and seeing if he stays put. Next, get him excited about the move by letting him pick out the bed or some fancy new SpongeBob sheets. Most important, says Mindell: keep the same bedtime routine you've had in the past. "Don't lie down in bed with him the first few nights unless you want to be doing that for the next six months!" she warns.

  • Stroller

    Give it up when...
    You get tired of pushing around your little prince or princess in the royal Barcalounger. Unless you have a 2-mile walk to preschool every day (uphill! in the snow!), there is really no need for an able-bodied child to use a stroller beyond the age of 3.

    Here's how
    As soon as your child is capable of walking several blocks on his own, set some rules: you'll put out the wheels only for long strolls or when you're out late and you know he'll be too exhausted to walk. And you know that giant, comfy SUV of a stroller you have, with reclining seats and stuffed animals attached to it? Trade it in for a no-frills $20 umbrella stroller that isn't nearly as tempting but that you can still use in a pinch for those epic mall excursions.

  • Afternoon Nap

    Give it up when...
    The daytime nap starts interfering with bedtime. Many moms admit that they hold on to the nap as long as they can, since it may be their only chance to get stuff done. But when an hour-long siesta means you're fighting to get her to bed at night, your daily break's days are numbered. "Most babies drop their morning naps by 18 months; 10 to 25 percent of kids give up naps altogether by 3," says Jodi Mindell PhD, who adds that by age 4, the majority of kids will be done snoozing during the day.

    Here's how
    If you're at the point where you have to force the nap, try skipping it for a few days to see how your child reacts: if he becomes edgy and sulky and has trouble falling asleep at night because he's overtired, wait it out a few more months. When he's ready to give it up, be sure to keep his bedtime consistent (or consider moving it a little earlier), and replace the nap with quiet time. And remember, you're not saying goodbye forever: if your child has a particularly exhausting day, he still might want to zonk out on the couch for a half hour. Feel free to go ahead and join him!

  • Heather Weston

    Lovey

    Give it up when...
    It disintegrates into a pile of fluff. One of life's most delectable pleasures is drifting off to sleep with a cuddly friend, whether you're 3 or 30, so we say hold on to that lovey as long as you can! However, by the time your child starts preschool, it's a good idea to keep the blankie, teddy, or stuffed platypus at home, where it won't get in the way of class participation, or God forbid, left behind in a booth at McDonald's.

    Here's how
    Your best ally is your child's teacher. Most preschool teachers and day-care workers are experts at helping a child put Teddy in a cubby and then getting her so involved in playing at the sand table or feeding the gerbil that she forgets all about it. Then, after a week or two, suggest that the child tuck Teddy in at home.

  • Getty

    Breastfeeding

    Give it up when...
    Mom or baby are ready to wean. For some moms who are interested in weaning, though, there are certain periods when the transition might be a little easier, says Mary Kay Smith, a lactation consultant at Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit, and a La Leche League leader. "Between 6 and 9 months, when babies are trying to master a new task like sitting or crawling, they are focused on moving, so they may be less interested in nursing during the day," she says. The worst times to wean: when the baby is experiencing stress, such as having a new caregiver, or the arrival of a sibling.

    Here's how
    Unless you want rock-hard, engorged breasts and a cranky baby, weaning should be a gradual process. "It will take about ten days to two weeks for the mom to be comfortable and the baby to get the picture," Smith says. Swap one daily breastfeeding session for a bottle or cup feeding every few days. Leave the bedtime session for last. If possible, have someone else feed your baby if he would have normally nursed. Along the same lines, feed your baby in a different place from where you would've breastfed him -- the living room couch instead of the rocking chair, for example. If you've been pumping, gradually dial down the amount of time you spend on the pump (15 minutes one day, 10 minutes the next, and so on) to decrease your production.

    Marisa Cohen, a mother of two, is a writer in New York City.

    Originally published in the April 2009 issue of American Baby magazine.