Bottle Blues?

Moving from bottle feeding or nursing to solids is a process filled with fuzzy guidelines.  The transition from a liquid diet to eating table food is not a step- by-step process.  It involves slowly introducing food items that are more and more solid and taking the time your baby needs to help him get used to the tastes, textures and practicalities of this shift.

How to successfully move away from the bottle completely is one topic that is often discussed by parents.  Baby is often equally invested in getting older and eating what other family members do and in taking comfort from the soothing and familiar action of sucking. Because of this, parents often have difficulty adjusting to the varying needs of their child.

The early childhood staff at Harley Family Center talked about the slow process that babies go through to ultimately reach table food / cup proficiency.  Although the time line will need to be adjusted for the unique needs of your baby, here are some general thoughts around helping your child move away from the bottle and towards the table.

There is so much learning involved in eating new items—and the actions required of the mouth are really very different when eating solids (even rice cereal thickened up a bit) and drinking from a bottle. In addition, the body has to adjust to digesting different sorts of materials, something that requires a significant shift. Because of this, the early experiences with solids are really more of  “how-to” learning than a nutritional experience.  The early weeks of solids feeding involves a continuation of nursing or bottle feeding, in order to meet the nutritional needs of baby (consider the small amount of food that is actually being consumed!). This can happen at the same meal as the solids feeding–either before or after exploring with the solid foods.

As baby becomes more proficient in eating the food offered, better able to digest the slowly varying array of foods that are presented, and becomes more interested in eating rather than nursing, then the liquid meal will become replaced by the solids meal.  However, an actual solid food meal first happens only one time a day, and therefore there is nursing or bottle feeding at other times of day. When the solid meal becomes a real meal, something that feels substantial, then present your child with a cup during that meal. The cup before the age of 1 should have formula or breastmilk in it, so that the nutritional value is high.  At this point, pairing a cup with a meal provides baby with a direct contrast between when we have a bottle and when we have a cup. A cup is for meals, a bottle is for snacks.

This slow progression happens throughout the course of weeks and months, and as solid meals take over liquid meals the bottle tends to lose it’s feeding importance. This can be talked about in simple terms: “We drink from a cup when we eat food”.  Baby may show less and less interest in the bottle.  As snacks are also replaced with solid foods, then baby gets cups for the snacks as well. This progression helps baby to see cup drinking as the “growing up” way of doing things.

By the age of one, your baby-now-toddler is generally taking her nutrition from food. Often pediatricians will begin to encourage you to remove the bottle completely. This can be a difficult last step because although baby has moved away from the bottle for nutrition, there is often a true sense of comfort during the sleepy times and cuddly times that are associated with bottle drinking. It can be difficult for parents to let go of this soothing time as well.

Child development advocates and medical / dental experts can sometimes see the same issue with different lenses. When you receive advice from either, consider it in light of the needs of your child, the needs of your family and the reasons for moving on the path that you are moving. Take the advice and information you receive from both areas of expertise and let the two work together, rather than letting one set of opinions overwhelm the other. Parenting is, after all, the grand art of balancing. One thing that makes this clear is the balancing act between a liquid diet and solid food diet.

By the age of one your toddler is likely using the bottle for comfort, rather than nutrition, because the nutrition is coming from the food. In order to take away the bottle around this time, replace the bottle with something that will provide an equal amount of comfort for your child. A stuffed animal, blanket or some other “lovey” will help your child find comfort in a different way and allow him to gradually see the bottle as less of a comfort item.

Begin shifting the liquid in the bottle to water. You can do this by gradually mixing the two liquids. Mix more and more water into the bottle and less and less formula or milk and soon you will have an all water bottle. This may be enough for you child to lose interest in the bottle.

Your toddler understands your simple sentences, even if he does not reply.  Choose a simple sentence to introduce him to the idea that he will soon be letting go of his bottle permanently. “We have the bottle during sleepy times. Never in the crib / bed.” (Going to sleep with a bottle full of milk or formula can cause a deterioration of the teeth. Refrain from letting your child sleep with the bottle as you see teeth develop). This can start to frame for him the limits you have set on its usage.  Remember to offer the other “lovey” item during times when your child needs comfort. Don’t be surprised if this other comfort item is mouthed / chewed / or sucked on in order for your child to feel comfort. For a child who is particularly oral, you may find that throughout life they relieve tenseness orally. They may be the adult that chews on a pencil, chews gum or sucks on hard candy during stressful times.

If you are having a difficult time removing the bottle completely, your child may need more time getting used to the idea. By giving them that time, and filling up that waiting period with a focus on another comfort item and lots of cuddles, hugs and kisses without a bottle around, your child will greet the idea again a little later with more confidence and ability. Again, parenting is a true balancing act—sometimes we need to balance what our toddler needs against the pressure we are sensing to remove the item they most associate with comfort.

Your child will move to cup use, lose the need for the bottle and find comfort in other items as you shift through the maze of solids feeding. Along the way your child will be building his skills for independence, growing more interested in the world around him and be able to find comfort and interest in a wider variety of things. This is when the bottle will become a piece of his babyhood—a memory.

If you are interested in learning more about the journey your family will take as you move from a liquid diet to a solids diet with your toddler, Ellyn Satter’s web site is a great resource.  She provides excellent information around helping your family create a healthy and respectful mealtime.

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