From bottle to cup: when’s the right time?

Ditching the bottles and moving on to cups isn't always an easy transition, but it's an important step for every baby to make

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Moving from bottles to cups is an important milestone for your tot, and the sooner you tackle it, the easier it’s likely to be…

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Why should you move from bottles to cups?

While bottles are great for young babies, once those tiny teeth start to appear, they can cause problems.

Almost all drinks – with the exception of water, but including formula and cows milk – contain sugar, and the way the liquid flows from the teat of a bottle means it pools around your baby’s teeth and can cause cavities.

Prolonged use of a feeding bottle can also cause difficulties with speech development, particularly if your little one tends to suck on a teat for comfort.

If you’ve started to give your baby fruit juice, squash or cordial as well as milk, it’s especially important that you offer these from a cup and not a bottle, as they’re high in sugar and acid and can swiftly damage newly growing teeth.  

When should your baby start drinking from a cup?

Dental experts advise that you start to get your baby used to drinking from a cup at around six months of age, so it makes sense to introduce one as soon as you start weaning onto solids.

Okay, so there’s a lot for him to master, but giving him a cup of water with his meals will help to familiarise him with what to do.

Admittedly, at first, he’s likely to tip it upside down or throw it off the highchair rather than actually drinking from it, but practice makes perfect!

Initially, you’ll probably want to continue to give your baby his milk feeds from a bottle to make sure he still gets the amount he needs.

But over the next six months, try to gradually switch over from giving him a bottle of milk to offering him a cup instead, particularly for his daytime feeds.

The bedtime bottle is usually the last to go, but you should aim to bin the bottles for good at around 12 months. 

What about breastfed babies?

If you’re still breastfeeding your baby at six months and are planning to make the switch from breastmilk to formula (or cows milk, if your baby is over 12 months old), you might want to consider skipping the bottle stage entirely and going straight to a cup. 

Which cup should you choose?

There’s a baffling array of training cups on the market, so choosing the right one is likely to be a matter of trial and error.

The best strategy is generally to pick a cup and see how your baby gets on. Give him a week or so to get to grips with it, and if he’s not making progress, consider trying a different sort. 

Non-spill cups have a valve in the spout which helps to minimise mess, but these tend to require a strong sucking action and smaller babies may not be able to get the drink out very easily.

‘Sippy cups’ usually have a flip-up spout. Drink flows more easily from this type of cup – but that also means there’s more potential for your baby to tip it over his head/highchair/your carpet.

Some babies drink better from an open cup. Again, there are many different types of baby-friendly cup, from simple plastic beakers to angled cups that are supposedly easier for your tot to drink from (and harder to knock over).

Drinking from an open cup is good for your baby’s dental development, but beware of spills!

If your baby is over a year old, there’s even more choice, including sports bottle type cups and cups with a flexible in-built straw. 

Whichever type you choose, make sure it’s plastic (i.e. unbreakable!), easy for your toddler to hold and, if you’re planning to use it for milk, can be sterilised. 

What if your baby won’t take a cup?

Many babies get a lot of comfort from their bottle, and can be very resistant to giving it up, but it’s important to persevere for the sake of his oral development.

If your baby or toddler is refusing to drink from a cup, you could try:

  • Giving him a different type of cup. He might struggle with a sippy cup, but manage better with an open cup.
  • Letting him play with the cup between feeding times. Fill it with water and give him time to hold it, chew it, throw it…  
  • Buying a ‘bottle to cup trainer.’ Some bottle manufacturers make sippy teats and chunky, baby-friendly handles that attach to his usual bottle to ease the transition.
  • Showing him how to drink from the cup. Try having a ‘tea party’ where you sit down with him and have a drink from one of his cups.
  • Letting him choose his own cup. Picking a cup emblazoned with his favourite character can tip the balance for a toddler.
  • Introducing a reward chart for drinking from a cup. From the age of two or thereabouts, toddlers are very receptive to rewards and may be persuaded to give the cup a go in exchange for a treat.
  • Giving him an open cup with a straw. Children love the novelty of drinking from a straw, and it’s better for their teeth as the drink doesn’t collect around their teeth.
  • Tweaking his bedtime routine so you replace his bottle with another comforting ritual. You could, for example, give him his bedtime milk from a cup before his bath, and instead settle him with a special story or song when it’s time to sleep

Above all, be prepared to persevere – but don’t panic. If your baby is thirsty, he will drink, so make sure he has free access to a cup of water, and continue to offer his feeds at the usual times but from a cup rather than a bottle.

Remember, too, that making the transition from bottles to cups is likely to coincide with your baby naturally dropping milk feeds as his intake of solid foods increases: as long as he’s alert, active and producing wet nappies, he’s getting enough to drink. 

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