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Bottle Weaning

At Eric Farbowitz's 1-year checkup, the pediatrician told his parents that it was a good time for him to give up his bottle. But as they quickly found out, their son disagreed. A sippy cup would do during the day, but first thing in the morning and last thing at night, he screamed and cried for his bottle. "This is one of the hardest challenges we've encountered as parents," says his dad, Isaac.

Most kids are capable of drinking from a cup at 12 to 14 months, but there's another reason to wean: "If a child's teeth are bathed in milk or juice throughout the day or night, there's significant potential for tooth decay," says Irene Buzzi, a pediatric dentist at Miami Children's Hospital. Simply replacing a bottle with a sippy cup a child can tote around doesn't solve the problem  -- he needs to give up the constant companionship.

To encourage the transition:

  • Reduce bottle-feedings  -- slowly.Start by replacing a midday bottle with a sippy cup rather than trying to eliminate your child's bedtime bottle right away. Once you decide to get rid of the bottle for a specific feeding, don't give in if your child cries for it  -- he'll just learn that fussing brings the bottle back.

  • Just add water. Because milk and juice create the tooth-decay problem, you can try filling the bottle with water when it's not time for a feeding. It may help him lose interest  -- though Eric wasn't happy when he realized he'd been duped by this trick.

  • Break the bond.It'll be harder for your child to let go of his bottle if he relates to it as a toy or security object, so allow it only at mealtimes. You can also institute a home-only rule: If your child knows his bottle doesn't leave the house, he'll get used to not having it.

  • Make bedtime bottle-free.If he uses it to comfort himself at night, gently separate it from his sleeping routine. Hand it to him before you clean his teeth, then tuck him in. If he balks, comfort him in other ways, such as rocking or singing.

  • Give him time.It might take you six months or more to wean your baby from his bottle. But patiently guide him one step at a time, and you will.
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