How to get toddler to give up her bottle?

Dear Dr. Laura,

My daughter is 16 months and still not weaned from the bottle yet. She drinks juice and water from a cup but she throws the cup if I put milk in it after a few sips, so I end up giving it to her in the bottle. I would not give it to her in the bottle at all except, she is very thin (5th percentile)and eats only a few bites most of the time at most meals. I worry that if she doesn't get the milk at all, she won't get sufficient calories (I give her 20 oz a day). I am very close to buying pedisure type drinks to getr her to gain more weight. How do I successfully wean her if she refuses her milk in the cup?
Lisa

Dear Lisa,
Your daughter is letting you know that she associates milk with her bottle and has no interest in drinking it from a cup.

Most pediatricians like kids weaned by 24 months, and to avoid tooth decay, you don't want her falling asleep with her bottle even now. But you do have time to make this a gradual transition, which will make the process easier on everyone.

Transitioning from the bottle to the cup is a process that requires your child to be willing to consume milk from her cup, as well as to eat more calories in the form of food. It also requires the child to transition emotionally and let go of her main comfort object (besides you, of course!). The best way to accomplish this is in a gradual, loving way. It is a huge loss for kids to have their bottle taken away cold turkey.

There are many gradual methods, that basically involve changing your child's pattern by limiting bottle use. In other words, don't let her walk around with the bottle, use it only in a certain place. Begin to separate it from the sleeping routine so she doesn't fall asleep with it. Give her the bottle, brush her teeth, and then soothe her to sleep with music and rocking.

But I think the best way is to gradually let her lose interest in the bottle by diluting her milk at the same time that you gradually get her to drink milk from a cup. Here's how:

1. Try Nubie cups or some other cup that has a soft nipple similar to a bottle. Your daughter will still rebel against the milk in the cup, so you have to somehow make it different from normal milk, at first. This is temporary, as you will gradually dilute the milk back to plain normal milk. You can make the milk different by using a bit of natural food coloring to make the milk a color she likes. However, since the color is temporary, don't refer to the milk as "blue milk" or whatever, instead call it her "special milk".

2. Introduce the cup with great excitement. Never put anything in this cup except milk. Hold her and snuggle her, and play with her, while she drinks from the Nubie, so that she associates it with the same feelings of comfort she gets from her bottle.

3. Once she is happily drinking her "special" milk on a regular basis, begin diminishing the amount of color. Do this very gradually, over a period of a month. Use the cup every chance she gets.

4. Meanwhile, start diluting the milk in her bottle with water, so that it becomes thinner and thinner. Do this VERY gradually, over a period of a month.

Eventually, your daughter will be drinking milk out of her cup, and water out of her bottle. At that point, who cares when she gives up her bottle? If it comforts her, that's fine. She can even take it to bed because it won't rot her teeth!

Of course, keep giving her "real" food at meals so that she learns to eat, as well as drink. Eventually you will have to wean her from the nubie as well. When it comes time for that, just snip the nipple slightly so the suction changes and it becomes more like a cup and less like a bottle. But that transition is a long way down the road!
Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura,

THANK YOU!! This worked perfectly with my two year old son! I am so glad not to have to traumatize him. He loved the color of the blue milk, and didn't seem to find the bottle as satisfying any more. I am still working on diluting the blue, but since I have switched to the colored nubie cup, he can't see the milk now and doesn't seem to notice. I hope he'll forget it was ever blue!
Helen

Dr. Laura,

Unfortunately, it did not work for me. I show my daughter the blue milk but once i put the top on and she tastes it, she still throws the cup. I tried other colors, too, but no dice. She's too smart. Can I try chocolate milk?
Lisa

Dear Lisa,
Some people would be horrified by the idea of introducing chocolate milk. My son never had sugar until he was three, but my daughter had ice cream for the first time at twelve months. It depends on your family's priorities. I personally would worry more about the caffiene in cocoa than the sweetener, particularly since you can always use a little birch sugar, rather than regular sugar. Birch sugar doesn't have the same bad effects on blood sugar, teeth, etc that cane sugar does. However, you can get the same result by skipping the cocoa and using a tiny bit of birch sugar along with the natural food coloring.

I want to add, though, that changing the milk is essentially a trick to ease your child into finding the cup more attractive and the bottle less comforting. There is nothing wrong with this if your kid doesn't have a bad reaction to natural food coloring, which most kids don't. (I would never give kids regular food coloring, which many kids do have a bad reaction to.)

However, once you start adding sweetener to the milk, then you have to weight the idea of getting your kid into sweets -- even if you dilute the milk again and get her back into regular milk -- versus the idea of your child's upset at giving up her main comfort object. Kids can give up their bottles without this subterfuge. If your child won't accept the cup with milk without sweetener, you may want to consider just giving her juice and water in her cup, while weaning her off the bottle. She will almost certainly accept milk from the cup eventually, and in the meantime, her calcium and protein needs can be met via yogurt and cheese.

If you choose to go this route, I encourage you to proceed gradually. In other words, start by curtailing bottle use to certain times of the day. If your daughter wants her bottle at other times, tell her sympathetically that it isn't bottle time and offer her the cup as a substitute. If she throws it, acknowledge kindly that she doesn't want the cup right now, she wants the bottle. Reaffirm that it isn't bottle time and tell her when she will be able to have her bottle. When she protests and cries, offer her empathy. If she'll let you hold her while she cries, all the better.

Often kids cry and cry over the bottle, then hop off your lap and go on cheerfully with their morning. Letting her discharge her upset about the bottle in the safety of your arms is a gift to your daughter that will help her move through her yearning faster. She may even take the opportunity to discharge other stored-up unhappiness. I heard of one little boy who would wait until he was allowed to have his bottle before bedtime, drink some of it, then hide his bottle and climb into his mother's arms to cry more about missing it. He had already discovered how good it felt to let all his upset feelings out, which was only possible for him in his mother's loving arms.

After your daughter has gotten used to having the bottle only at certain times of the day, you may want to restrict the bottle to certain areas. You might also want to always snuggle her while she has the cup, but not the bottle. You will also have to develop new routines to comfort her when she hurts herself, or is tired, that don't involve the bottle.

The point is that you'll need to support your child through this weaning process and do it gradually, but that it's very do-able. Good luck!
Dr. Laura

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