It’s hard to know exactly when and how to wean your baby from the breast or bottle, as every baby is different and there are many conflicting recommendations. Personally, I’ve had three babies, two of whom weaned at different times and in different ways, and one of whom hasn’t weaned yet (he’s only 11 months). Looking to credible sources for advice and guidance, and following your own personal wishes and intuition are both important considerations to take when making your decision.
Weaning recommendations differ depending on whether a baby is breastfed or bottle-fed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of age, and a combination of breastfeeding and solid foods until at least age one. By one year of age, Moms are encouraged to continue breastfeeding for as long as it feels right for them and their babies (up to age two and beyond).
For some moms though, breastfeeding comes to an end at or before the one year mark, and that’s ok. Perhaps it is a milk supply issue, their baby decided to wean or maybe circumstances make it too hard to continue or even start in the first place. And then some moms choose to pump and feed their babies breastmilk with a bottle instead. Regardless, it’s important to know when to transition away from a bottle, and why.
Why should you wean from a bottle?
Young toddlers over the age of one no longer need a bottle for proper nourishment. Ideally, at six months of age, solid foods are introduced and by one year of age, babies should be eating regular nutritious meals and snacks. Formula is no longer recommended after the age of one, assuming that a baby is growing and developing well. And by 12 months, homogenized milk can be introduced (up to 500 mL per day) in an open or straw cup, and be served at or just after meals.
Bottles should ideally be phased out around the age of one for a few important reasons. First, toddlers who drink milk from a bottle (especially throughout the day), may be at a higher risk of iron deficiency anemia. Excess milk can easily replace other essential nutrients, especially those high in iron such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans and lentils. Milk, although nutritious, is satiating because of the protein and fat content, therefore, can fill precious space in small tummies. Secondly, prolonged bottle drinking can put a toddler at increased risk of dental caries. A toddler attached to a bottle all day, at naps and at bedtime for comfort (meaning, the bottle is in the crib or bed with him) is at risk for dental caries because of the sugar content in milk, which coats little teeth and often doesn’t get brushed off. Also, it’s easier for toddlers to drink milk in excess when offered via bottle throughout the day (and taking it to bed), potentially leading to excess calorie consumption and unhealthy weight gain.
Finally, some experts believe that the spout on bottles (and even some sippy cups) prevents the opportunity for toddlers to practice mature oral motor and swallowing skills. Bottle nipples promote an infant-like sucking motion, which prevents the front of the tongue from elevating during the swallow, hindering independent lip, jaw and tongue movements needed for successfully drinking from a regular open cup.When should you wean your baby from the bottle?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends phasing out bottles between 12 and 24 months of age. I encourage parents to transition away from bottles closer to 12 months than 24 months, because of the reasons above, however, weaning bottle feeds (especially the bedtime feed) can be tough, both on baby and parent. Bottles provide a sense of comfort for babies and toddlers, often helping to sooth to sleep. Alice Callahan, PhD, an expert in pediatric health and nutrition (aka Science of Mom) agrees that daytime bottles should be phased out by one year, and that toddlers should be practicing with open cups and straw cups at mealtimes . But she, like me, is also a mom and a realist and says “parents might choose to keep an evening bottle until 24 months, and I think that’s fine.”
If parents do choose to keep that evening bottle though (whether pumped breastmilk or homogenized cow’s milk), it’s important to make sure that their toddler’s overall milk intake doesn’t exceed about 500 mL/day and that teeth are brushed afterwards.
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