Breast to Bottle – Nipple to Cup

Dr. Greene, how do you recommend weaning a baby from breast to bottle and then from nipple to cup?

Breast to Bottle – Nipple to Cup

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

To wean means to gradually accustom someone to a change. Usually weaning is the process of gradually letting go of something we were dependent on. While there are certain abrupt changes in childhood (most notably the suddenness of being born), all of childhood is a process of weaning.

The keys to successful weaning are substituting something wonderful for what the child is giving up, and giving the child time to adjust.

Weaning a baby from the breast to the bottle can be a big transition for both Mom and baby. The process is easiest if a bottle is introduced long before the breast begins to be taken away. I urge families I work with to begin occasional bottle-feeding once breastfeeding has become easy and natural, usually by 2 or 3 weeks. As a father, I found those opportunities to feed my children precious indeed. My children loved them too. In addition, if the feedings are strategically timed they can give the mother some much-needed rest.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast milk throughout the first year, if possible. Nursing will stop, though, whenever mother or baby decides it is time. If mother is the one to decide, the best way to stop is one feeding at a time, substituting it with a more mature kind of loving interaction – cuddling, or singing, or reading. It may help to have someone else do some of the feeding. Usually midday nursing is the best to stop first, because bedtime and early morning habits take the longest to change. Continue dropping another feeding every few days, until you are nursing as much as you want. All of the feedings at the breast can be dropped over about 2 weeks.

Weaning from a nipple (bottle or breast) to a cup is a similar process but usually takes much longer because more learning is involved. Introducing a cup long before you want to take the nipple away helps tremendously. The ideal time for this is when your baby has learned to sit independently and to eat some finger foods such as teething biscuits or zwieback toast. You may also notice her wrapping her fingers around the spoon when you feed her. She is eager to use her hands.

What a perfect time to give her little hands something to hold! A trainer cup with two handles is ideal. You might want one with a snap-on lid and a spout to minimize the mess as your baby experiments with the cup – after all, the cup makes a great throwing toy. Alternatively, you might want a special cup engraved with your baby’s name to remember that first sip forever – be prepared to celebrate the mess with pictures!

At mealtime, put some water in the cup and show your baby how to maneuver it to her mouth. A midday meal is again usually best. The cup will be little more than a toy for several weeks, but eventually most kids will drink down the water you put in. When they do this, it’s time to put something else in the cup or to begin giving it at other meals. It often takes about 6 months before all drinking is done with a cup – and the bedtime feeding is usually the last to switch. A good goal is that when whole milk is introduced at one year, it is in a cup not a bottle.

It’s wonderful for babies to have security objects, but if a bottle becomes the security object, it can make weaning tough. Avoid this by not letting babies carry a bottle around with them. Only use them at mealtimes when they are sitting down or being held. If they are thirsty at other times, hand them a cup.

What I’ve described is an ideal situation. I expect I’ll answer other questions about how to get an older child who is quite attached to the bottle to accept a change.

Life is a process of weaning; all of life is change. With any weaning, the secret is to find what is special about whatever we are changing to. Enjoy those momentous days when drinking from a cup is a brand new adventure!

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Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Kirsty

    My 10 month old is still breastfeeding 3 times a day and once or sometimes twice during the night, and I am wanting to wean him completely off the breast, but he hates the taste of formula, and won’t even drink my expressed breastmilk in a bottle or cup, everytime he sees a bottle he starts crying.

    I understand the process of dropping one feed at a a time during the wean ing process, but what do I substitute my breastmilk with if he wont drink formula, or even look at a bottle?

    And when I eventually wean him, how can I get him back to sleep when he wakes at night without breastfeeding him? He uses my breast as a dummy to get back to sleep.

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    • Alan Greene

      Kirsty, how great that your baby has had 10 months of breastfeeding! Some kids at this age take to a bottle or cup easily, but for those who don’t, it often helps to involve a partner in the weaning process – because when your baby sees you, he is used to getting the breast.

      Choose the bottle or cup that he seems to object to least. Nurse him, then leave your baby with a partner and some expressed milk while he is full and happy. Have them offer the bottle or cup every hour or so after that, not coaxing or pushing, just offering. If he isn’t interested, just put it away. After several hours he will likely take it, with increasing gusto.

      You might have to repeat this a couple of times, but it can break the bottle or cup barrier. Breast milk or formula is usually best as the core drink for the first year, so if you don’t have enough expressed milk, try the same procedure with the formula he objects to least (they do taste different). It’s great to also give some water at this age, but best to avoid sweetened beverages.

      The first few nights he doesn’t get night feedings, he will still awake hungry – from habit. But within a few nights of this he will start taking more during the day and no longer be hungry when he wakes.

      This technique may help with getting him back to sleep at 10 months (it worked with my kids!): http://www.drgreene.com/solving-toddler-sleep-issues-in-about-4-days/

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