I’ve been talking to many parents of 1-2 year olds lately, and I’ve realized that a lot of you are struggling with navigating the transition off of bottles and nursing. It’s a tricky thing: Not only do these feedings provide vital nutrition, they are also a huge source of comfort and routine for the little ones. Trying to get rid of these feedings cold turkey can feel to your child as if you’re pulling the rug out from under him or her...but failing to cut down on the volume of milk or formula that your child drinks can impact his or her interest in transitioning to a variety of healthy foods. I am starting this process with my soon-to-be one year old myself, so it is an especially relevant topic in my life right now!
Finding a balance is key! If you proceed with a well thought-out plan, you can ensure that your child can make this transition in a positive way. Here are the main points that you should consider when planning for this leap!
1.) Teach your child to use a new cup: If you are going to start decreasing bottles and/or nursing, you will need to make sure that they have other ways of getting their fluids. Start working with your child on drinking skills (be it straw cup, open cup, or sippy) a few months before you expect to start reducing their bottles or nursing...these skills take time! Usually, babies will be interested in little sips of cold water, so that is a good starting point.
2.) Introducing drinks in the mealtime context: Begin offering your child an occasional drink during their solids feedings. This is a really easy way to start building their interest in drinking outside of the bottle/nursing context, as they will likely feel thirsty at some point in the meal. Once you get closer to reducing bottle/nursing intake, you can start paying more attention to how much volume they are actually finishing at meals. Use this number as a guide for how much bottle volume you can reduce, or whether he or she is ready to eliminate a nursing session.
3.) Deciding on the next milk for you child: Consult with your pediatrician to see what he/she recommends as the next drink of choice for your little one. This may be whole milk or a toddler formula, or possibly an alternative milk (such as a nut milk). Some kids don’t end up caring for milk all that much, and your pediatrician may be ok with sticking to water, so long as they are getting their nutritional needs from foods.
4.) Phasing out bottles and nursing, gradually: The main focus here is making sure that your child is maintaining the necessary fluid, calorie, and nutritional intake that they need to grow and be healthy. The easiest bottle/nursing sessions to eliminate are usually the daytime ones, when they are active and eating meals. Those can be the first to phase out, as your child can drink at meals and can be distracted with activities and outings if they are getting fussy. The ‘first thing in the morning’ feeding is usually the next to phase out. For kids who wake up super hungry, this may require you to get up a little earlier and have their meal ready to go! Next to go is typically the pre-nap feeding, and last is the bedtime one (since this is most related to comfort and routine. Start establishing other comforting routines (bathtime, book, lullaby) before eliminating this last one.
5.) Focus on a wide variety of healthy foods: When your little one’s belly is no longer being filled by bottles and nursing, he or she will develop an increased interest in foods. Make sure to present a variety of flavors, textures, and colors of food from the get-go, and keep those foods in the rotation on a regular basis. Look for hunger cues, and try to keep a regular feeding schedule that lines up with your child’s needs.