There are few things in life that strike fear into the hearts of first-time parents like trying to figure out how to bottle weaning. Visions of future a four-year-old child running around the playground with their bottle gripped tight in hand haunted this mama’s nightmares… so we figured out an easy method of bottle weaning that worked like a charm!
Why is Bottle Weaning So Hard?
Yes, weaning your infant or toddler off of their bottle or off of their breastmilk/formula can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be so hard.
I started freaking out about getting our son off the bottle almost as soon as he started using one, at about a week old. We had many challenges nursing and had to bottle-feed at times out of necessity to help him gain weight.
Regardless of my cries, screams, pleading, and begging- nursing was a hardcore challenge for us. Despite nine lactation consultant visits with five different IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants), despite having his tongue tie revised at six weeks old, despite trying everything under the sun… he was never able to be exclusively breastfed.
I’d love to say I’ve made my peace with that but it still makes me weepy, because I so badly wanted to be the latched mama, nursing on demand all over town as the need arose.
*sigh* But, I digress…
At six months, he started strongly preferring the bottle to the breast during the day but would still nurse at night.
At seven months, he refused to nurse at all. I was officially an exclusive pumper. whomp. whomp.
“Oh, boy,” I thought as the months ticked by…
“How are we going to get him off the bottle when the time comes?”
There isn’t much information online for someone who is a die-hard researcher. Especially for someone who needed step-by-step instructions and troubleshooting advice for problems that may never come to pass. Our pediatrician didn’t really seem to have much advice other than to just cut back and increase fluids from cups.
Not enough information!
I need specifics. Case studies. First-hand stories. Timeframes. I’m a little neurotic like that. (Working on it!)
So, my husband and I sat down and developed a logical, step-by-step plan that we thought would work.
How to Plan Out a Bottle Weaning Schedule
I was determined to wean our son from the bottle, breastmilk, and formula all at the same time. I figured that, surely, he’d associate the bottle with breastmilk/formula (we mixed 50-50 in every bottle because of supply problems due to a medical issue) so if we were going to wean off the BM/formula, might as well get him off the bottle too.
Why struggle through two periods of transition when we could just go through just one instead, right?
Pretty sure my husband thought I was crazy, but once I get set on doing something, there’s no stopping me. For better or worse.
First thing we did was determine an end date. We chose his first birthday as our goal to be free from all bottles, breastmilk, and formula except his bedtime bottle. I figured that one would be the toughest one for our son to let go of so we’d do it last.
Disclaimer: We checked our plan with our pediatrician and she said it was fine since he’s a great eater and in the 80th+ percentile on all his measurements. Do what’s right for your child and discuss your weaning plans with your doctor please!
Preparing For an Easy Transition
There were several things we did months beforehand that made the transition off bottles and off breastmilk/formula easier. Preparing your plan of action far in advance makes everything easier.
Healthy Food Intake
The first thing was that we chose to forgo the purees stage that’s so popular in the States, and opted to go the Baby Led Weaning route.
Baby-led weaning (BLW for short) is basically starting your infant on regular foods as soon as they meet all the signs of readiness. No purees, no mashing up foods, no mixing with breastmilk. Note the use of the word ‘weaning’ in BLW is very different than the usage of the word throughout the topic of this piece at large. More to come on BLW in the future. Join the Baby Led Weaning for Beginners & Beyond Facebook group for a truly amazing community and resource!
So, basically, little man ate whatever we ate from the age of six months, which made him a very good eater with advanced skills. This meant he could stand to drop the breastmilk and formula from the nutritional and calorie perspectives.
Get Them Comfortable With a Cup
The second thing that I’d recommend starting as early as possible, but definitely as soon as you begin solids, is consistently having your infant use a cup.
Yes, it’s a huge pain in the ass with most babies. They don’t get it, don’t like it, and don’t understand why you keep thrusting it at them. Fair enough. But it’s one of the big reasons I believe our transition went so smoothly.
Provide the same cup with each meal and model how to use it. They will get it eventually, I promise! We use the Munchkin weighted straw cups and love them but plan to transition to a Munchkin Miracle 360º Cup at some point. No rush though, he can use a straw until he’s in high school if needed!
By the time we were ready to begin the transition off of both bottles and breastmilk/formula, he was drinking very well out of his cup as well as eating plenty to keep his weight up.
Adjust Your Weaning Plans to Your Child’s Schedule
Our son has always been pretty routine driven which is great because it makes his day fairly predictable. For context, here’s his schedule as we began the transition:
- Bottle #1: after waking 1-3oz
- Bottle #2: before morning nap 5-8oz
- Bottle #3: before afternoon nap 5-8oz
- Bottle #4: before bed 6-8oz
Although he used to take a bottle around dinner time, he dropped that one naturally when his food intake really started to ramp up around 9/10mos.
How to Start the Weaning Process
Just like any transitional process, always start with periods of wakefulness first, followed by nap times, followed by bedtime. Following this methodology ensures as little interruption to overnight sleep as possible.
The first thing we did was put his morning breastmilk into his cup instead of a bottle. He drank it while I make breakfast and feed the dogs. No problems but a few funny looks the first day or two. Bottle #1 down.
We also introduced whole cow’s milk into his mealtime and snack time cups at this point. The first day or two we did half water, half milk to ease him into the taste and then he was off to the races.
I should make a side note here that I don’t believe in people drinking cow’s milk, or even milk of other animals. It gives me the heebie-jeebies and I don’t think it’s biologically advantageous. That being said, my husband is in camp cow’s milk so we compromised and are doing whole milk until the age of two and then plan to transition to an alternative plant-based milk substitute like mama. There is no research-backed evidence that cow’s milk is essential for a toddler if they eat a well-balanced diet.
How to Ease the Nap Bottle Weaning Transition
We started reducing his nap bottles by an half an ounce every day so he’d rely less and less on them to get to sleep. He was always a baby who would often fall asleep nursing or on his bottle.
At the same time, we began introducing a new naptime routine. We started reading a story after getting him into his sleep sack and rocking him in the glider for a few minutes after his bottle.
Once we got down to about an ounce in each naptime bottle, we replaced the then with a few sips from his water cup after his story. Then we’d rock and put him in the crib a few minutes later.
All in all, this went pretty smoothly. We had to go up to settle him a tiny bit more once or twice, but no major issues.
Dropping the Bedtime Bottle
Transitioning off the bedtime bottle was the one I was most worried about. Little man has slept through the night a solid twelve hours since around 6/7 months and I was not looking to give that up. At all. Mama likes to sleep through the night too.
As the naptime bottles got less and less, we started gradually reducing the bedtime bottle. This one was less of a straight reduction because his intake at dinner was somewhat unpredictable. If he decided to eat very little for dinner I would feel bad and toss an extra ounce or two in the bedtime bottle.
Overall though, we reduced his bedtime bottle by a half an ounce every 3-4 days. By this time he was pretty clear on what was going on and actually stopped finishing his bottles most nights. By the time we got down to putting two ounces in the bottle, he would often just take a few sips and want to be rocked. We swapped out the bottle for a few sips from his water cup and the rest was history.
We’d successfully removed his reliance on the bottle to get to sleep. Hooray!
Stay Consistent with Bottle Weaning
Once we were done with the bottles, we got rid of them. It’s essential that you don’t backslide on this at all. Once you start to bargain, barter, give in to the easier way under stress or strain, it sets a real bad precedent for the future with your child.
This method of transition for bottle weaning also works well for getting rid of the pacifier!
You can do this!
Successfully transitioning off the bottle and weaning from breastmilk and/or formula is pretty simple once you get down to it.
- Prepare in advance
- Plan out your schedule (& stick to it as much as possible!)
- Start with bottles during awake times
- Gradually transition out of nap time bottles
- Introduce a new pre-sleep routine if your child depends on the bottle
- Gradually reduce the before bed bottle
- Once you’re done, you’re DONE!
You got this, mama!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: Are you ready to get your child off the bottles? How are you planning it out?