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How to Breast and Bottle Wean

The Advice Smackdown’s All Things Weaning Extravaganza

By Amalah

To the guru of all things baby related:

I need to wean my just-turned-one son. My husband really wants me to and I kinda want to have my body back (but it is just so easy to offer the boobies…) About a month ago, the little guy stopped nursing all the time and dialed back his requests–so I thought we were on the way, but he is still doing four sessions–the goodnight, the middle of the night, the good morning, and the home from school session. He also takes 1 bottle at daycare. So here are my issues:

1. How do I get him to give up his one bottle? I know that at a year it needs to go. He has a love-hate relationship with it. I think I could just take it away and he would be fine. EXCEPT I am scared that he will refuse the sippy cup and that one bottle is the only liquid he gets from 7 am to 3 pm. Do I just dump it in a sippy and hope he takes it because he is thirsty?

2. How do I get him on sippy cups? He will drink from them sometimes but it isn’t a guaranteed thing. He took an ounce of cow’s milk yesterday and has a sippy of water (and sometimes juice) that I send with him to daycare. He plays with it.

3. How do I wean him? I was thinking of cutting the good morning feeding first since it is his shortest and closest in time to the middle of the night feeding (which is, honestly, the biggest feeding he does). My husband helped distract him this morning and I think it went okay. After about a week, I was thinking of giving up the goodnight feeding (once again, it is just a short one). But then I am lost…mainly because his cutting down on feedings last month was not accompanied by increasing any other liquids. I don’t want to dehydrate him–that would earn me a bad mommy award.

I know I am totally over-thinking this and he will probably surprise me (just like he does with everything). In a few months, this will all be a non-issue (just like his nap schedule, his refusal of real human food, his inability to clap, and sleeping in the swing), so history shows that I worry for nothing. Help me make progress on this without making myself insane.

Obviously an OCD First Time Mom

Here’s how to wean to a sippy cup in two easy steps:

1. CALM DOWN

2. See step one

It’s good that you recognize your tendency to overthink and worry, because yes, that’s exactly what you’re doing here. I tried to count the number of potential disasters you listed in your email — potential disasters that have not happened yet, because they exist off in the future in response to things you have not done yet — and lost track after “a whole bunch.” So maybe that should be our secondary topic: How to slow your parenting anxiety roll. Meditation, yoga, journaling out all these “but what ifs” and “but then whats” you’ve got going on, more relationships with other moms you can talk to and get advice from, SOMETHING. I’m not saying it’s abnormal to be super unsure of yourself the first time around, but I’d hate for you to one day look back on your son’s baby and toddlerhood and remember nothing but an endless parade of needless worry and stress over doing everything the right, “perfect” way.

Because guess what! Your son WILL wean. He WILL graduate to some kind of cup or cup-like receptacle. He will NOT end up hospitalized from dehydration.

But he’ll do it in his own unique way, in his own time. So let’s start with Step A and stop worrying about Step Z.

So three things ideally need to happen here: You want to wean him from both the breast and the bottle, and you want him to accept liquids from a sippy cup of some kind.

1) The bottle one sounds like it won’t be the struggle that other parents face, because he only drinks one and isn’t even that into it. BAM. Just do it. If he is thirsty, he will drink, full stop. He might change his liquid intake to a sip here, an ounce there (as opposed to the eight solid ounces in one go a bottle provides), and that’s FINE. Normal. Toddlers are actually quite excellent at setting their own portion controls for food and drink — provided you LET them, as opposed to micromanaging them and demanding empty plates and sippy cups at every meal. Believe me, I have been a complete asshole to all three of my children by taking the bottle away after 12 months  — even the ones who loooooovvvvvved it and still drank them multiple times a day — and they all made the transition just fine.

2) There are a TON of sippy cup options out there, so I encourage you to buy a few different kinds and try them out. Some kids like the hard spout, others need a more gradual step up from the bottle and prefer a more nipple-like spout. Some skip the spout completely and go right for the straws. (And then there’s the handle/no handle options! AHMAHGAH.) I can’t offer a ton of guidance here because my kids were all different. Noah loved the Munchkin cups with the straw. Ezra never had a strong preference for spout/straw type but HATED anything with handles. (He also made the leap to a “real” cup almost annoyingly early,  so OH MY LANDS, the number of spills I have cleaned up because he’s the world’s biggest mealtime klutz.) Ike was probably my most particular — he would drink from nothing but these soft-spout Munchkin cups for awhile, and we are currently locked in a 2-year-old battle of wills over saying goodbye to the hard-spouted Take n’ Toss cups and moving full-time to the straw version. God, he LOVES those cheap-o cups beyond all reason and GOD, sometimes I just don’t care and want to get through a meal without someone crying over a dumb cup.

(Straws are ultimately preferable for oral motor skills/speech development, but please don’t freak out about that when picking a first cup. The important thing is to find one your baby can hold and drink from. The transition to straws can happen later.)

3) You’re on the right track with weaning from the breast! The morning feeding is a good place to start since there’s a lot of options for distraction AND let’s face it, breakfast tends to be the “easiest” meal for toddlers. Place a sippy cup on his tray every morning with milk. Do not freak out if he ignores it. Send in a cup for water and one for milk to daycare. (I admit I’m not a fan of giving juice to babies this young, BUT it can be an effective temptation to get them to accept a sippy cup. Just promise me you’ll water it down a LOT — like a 70/30 water-to-juice ratio — and don’t make it a default/regular thing.)

As for the rest of the feedings, go slow. You mention your husband wants you to wean but…uh, sorry dude, this is a mom-and-child decision type deal so don’t feel like you should rush or push on his behalf. I would definitely keep the after-school session and the bedtime session — the after-school session will help ease YOUR fears about the lack of a bottle and transition to sippy cups. The bedtime session is typically the last one to go, so once you’re comfortable that the morning session has been fully and peacefully eliminated, start working on that middle-of-the-night one. At a year old, he’s DEFINITELY okay going all night without liquids or food, and even though it’s the biggest feeding now, he’ll probably adjust pretty quickly and make the (necessary) shift to eating only during the day and not at night.

So how to eliminate that middle-of-the-night feeding? Well, it depends. If you weren’t also trying to eliminate the bottle, I’d probably tell you to have your husband go in for a couple nights with a bottle so he still gets his food but understands that the boobs are now closed at night. Or you can go in and rock and cuddle and all that, but without offering the boob. Take a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach, so if he’s rooting and getting distressed, let him nurse. But see how it goes if you simply don’t immediately whip out a boob, or if your husband handles the waking and makes it more about getting him back to sleep via other non-boob methods.

Once you’re confident that he’s drinking from a sippy cup, stop offering the boob post-daycare. (Again, he doesn’t need to chug the cup’s contents in one go; as long as he’s sipping from it and swallowing that’s a WIN. And as long as he’s eating real food, he’s FINE and you aren’t going to harm him by weaning.) Bring him home and distract him. Put some Elmo on or have a new/interesting toy waiting for him. Or put him in the high chair right away for a snack (with a sippy). Again, if he’s crying and tugging at your shirt, nurse him. No big deal if it happens in fits and starts.

The bedtime feeding will probably be the last to go, and you’ll kind of just know when he’s ready to say goodbye to it. But that’s Step Z and not worth worrying about now. There’s no ticking time bomb schedule thing here. You might discover that, husband’s wishes and your vague sense of wanting to be done aside, that you aren’t ready to wean completely. And that is also fine! The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until two, so if your husband is just getting weirded out that your son is “too big” or something, there’s a ton of research and facts to refute that and assure him that letting him nurse a bit longer is not a bad thing or some indication that you plan to breastfeed him until kindergarten.

My last baby weaned around 15 months, through absolutely no planning or effort on my part. It just…happened. I actually probably fought it a little bit by continuing to offer the boob even though I knew he’d never notice if I didn’t. It was very bittersweet and yet remarkably easy from a “omg how do I do this without dehydrating/starving him” perspective. He was eating and drinking just fine; I was extra and I was comfort.

Now, by the way, that same child won’t even LOOK at a meal until he’s had his Take n’ Toss sippy cup of milk, which he downs in one long, sustained chug. Withhold the cup (in hopes that he’ll eat more if he’s not filling up on milk) and face his endless, horrible wrath. So maybe one day you’ll write in again looking for advice on how to wean from the stupid sippy cup and I can only HOPE that I’ve got it figured out by then. But in the meantime, meh, it’s not worth stressing or obsessing over; we’ll shamble through it all eventually.

Published October 11, 2013. Last updated December 13, 2017.
Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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