The time when your baby switches from drinking from bottles to the slightly more grown up sippy cup can be fairly emotional - bottles are one of those symbols of babyhood it can feel like a loss to lose, even as saying goodbye to scrubbing them out with a bottle-brush feels like relief. Beyond the emotional part of it though, coaching your baby through making the switch can bring up some more practical questions, too.
Most parents start with a transitional sippy cup with a spout on it to prevent the worst spills while your baby figures out the mechanics of drinking by sipping, instead of by sucking, like through a breast or bottle nipple. Others, however, start right out with an open-top cup, which can work as well, though it may come with a few more spills along the way. Skipping the sippy cup can mean skipping over a fairly brief step, though - the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests using a sippy cup for just as long as it’s needed in the transition, and switching to an open cup as soon as possible, usually by around 2 years old.
Some parents find the switch to a cup with a straw works the most smoothly, and straws, which are commonly used in speech therapy to improve tongue dexterity, can be good for your baby’s speech development. On the other hand, the American Dental Association recommends against using sippy cups with ‘no spill’ valves in the lids, since they don’t allow children to learn to sip, and instead still require sucking, which can get in the way of an eventual transition away from sippy cups and toward regular cups.
Sippy cups with soft lids can be a good place to start when your baby is used to bottles, since the softer, flexible lids have more in common with bottle nipples than hard plastic lids do. Either way though, it’s not a good idea to let children carry sippy cups around with them during the day, since falling while drinking from them can cause mouth and facial injuries.
Introducing your baby to the cup just as an object, before filling it or asking her to do anything with it can be a great place to start. Some parents start even sooner, especially with older children, by letting them take part in the process of picking out the sippy or transitional cup, since choosing a cup that your baby wants to use can be half the battle.
After that, try introducing a sippy along with a bottle at a meal, so that your baby can work on the skills needed to drink this way without the stress of losing the option she was more comfortable with. She may need a little help working out the mechanics, so you may need to give her a demonstration. She may also be a little bit suspicious if, unlike her bottle, she can’t see through the walls of this new contraption to confirm that there’s milk there.
If your baby has started to use her bottle as a comfort object, it can help to start to try and encourage her to shift some of her affection over to another object, like a blanket or a soft toy. Not only might this make letting go of bottles easier, but it also might give her something to comfort herself with when she is dealing with the loss of her bottles.
Once your baby has the mechanics of drinking from a sippy down, and you’ve chosen a time that’s not filled with other major stressors or changes, there are a few different ways to start making the change. A gradual shift from bottles to cups over a period of days or weeks can be a less dramatic change, but getting rid of bottles altogether can make a difficult adjustment period shorter, even if it can also might cause more of an angry or upset outburst. Either way, as your baby gets older, big milestones like birthdays can be opportunities to convince children that they’re ready to move onto more ‘big kid’ things, like drinking from cups, or sleeping in toddler beds.
If you do choose a more gradual shift away from bottles, that can take a few different forms as well. You could try switching out a bottle for a sippy one meal at a time, starting with a meal that doesn’t generally involve a lot of drinking, and then switching out more and more bottles until the last ones to go are the first and last of the day. You could also choose a sneakier method, and try to trick your baby into thinking the change is her idea.
If you’re interested in the craftier option, keep offering your baby both the sippy cup and the bottle full of milk or formula, but start watering down the milk in the bottle a little bit at a time, and leaving the sippy cup full of milk. Once your baby is around 6 months or older, it’s not dangerous to offer her water, though she should continue drinking formula or expressed breast milk instead of cow’s milk until she is about a year old.
The key to any method you use is consistency - once you’ve made a step towards cups, taking it back can make your baby think the whole issue is up for negotiation. On the other hand, though, things do come up. If your baby is sick or stressed, and you don’t think she is up for more changes, there’s nothing wrong with pressing the pause button on the anti-bottle process, and picking it up again when your baby feels more ready.