When and how to move your baby from a bottle to a cup
When is the right time to get your baby drinking from a sippy cup if they’ve been using a bottle? We’ve got advice from experts at the British Dental Association…
If your baby’s used to feeding from a bottle (we know not all babies are, and that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months and then continuing along with nutritious complementary foods for up to 2 years or beyond) and you want to move them from the bottle to a cup we hope you’ll find the information below helpful.
Moving to a cup – an unexpected milestone
From weaning to crawling and those early smiles - there are so many precious milestones in the first year of your baby’s life. Perhaps one that you may be less familiar with is the important developmental milestone your baby will make when moving from using a bottle (if they’ve ever had one) to drinking out of a cup.
But when should you do it? What should you put in your child’s cup - and what kind of cup should you go for? We’ve got the answers from experts right here.
What’s the right age to move your baby from a bottle to a cup?
"The recommended age for introducing a cup to a baby is around 6 months or when your baby can sit up and hold their head steady," says Tanya Thomas, a paediatric dietitian from the British Dietetic Association (BDA).
The BDA advises that you need to stop using a bottle by the time your baby is 1.
But of course this is something that may be hard for many mums to hear who love their baby to drink their milk out of a bottle, not to mention baby being very attached too!
"My daughter is still on her bottle," says TaraMc on the MadeForMums forum. "I have tried about 10 different sippy cups to no avail. I’ve tried giving her a normal cup but the drink goes everywhere - she just can't get the hang of it!"
Dr Claire Stevens, a Consultant in Paediatric Dentistry, a member of the BDA and spokesperson for the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, suggests starting with an open top or free-flowing cup. "Then you should try and gradually wean your child away from using a bottle."
If you’re wondering exactly why the experts are so keen for you to stop bottle use by aged 1, Tanya explains: "If you use a bottle for too long then it can be associated with early tooth decay in children.
"Cups reduce your child's chances of developing problems with teeth as milk and other drinks are in contact with teeth for a much shorter period of time."
What drinks should you put in your baby’s cup?
Milk is hugely important for babies. "How much your baby drinks depends on their size and the amount of solids they are eating," says Tanya.
By one year babies should have around a pint of milk per day - too little and they may miss out on calcium and other nutrients like protein and energy and too much can mean they are missing out on solids because they feel too full.
As well as cows' milk, there is follow-on milk - designed specifically for babies from 6 months old to help complement the weaning diet.
And, aside from milk, water is the best thing to put in a beaker or cup as it doesn’t have a harmful effect on teeth. Plus sipping it from a cup provides hydration without being too filling.
Other drinks (including fruit juice, squash, flavoured milks, smoothies and fizzy drinks) are not advised. If you do give fruit juice or squash it should be very well diluted with at least 10 parts water.
Tea and coffee aren’t suitable for babies or young children as both contain caffeine. Hot chocolates containing added sugar are also a no-no as the added sugar can lead to tooth decay.
What kind of cup should your baby have?
With so many different types of cups out there it can feel a bit overwhelming in terms of which one to choose.
Mum Posy has had to try a lot of different types. "It has been one of the hardest moves, nearly more perplexing at times than weaning I have to say. But we finally have one she is happy with. She loves it, and guzzles down 4oz mid afternoon in about 2 minutes, followed by a… burp!"
Paediatric Dietitian Joanna Lenz suggests experimenting:
I would advise parents to try a range of cups to find the one your child prefers - in older children using a favourite character on the cup can help.
"Ideally, an open cup is best although of course it can get a bit messy! If not a free-flow lidded beaker is fine to start with but once your baby has learnt to drink the lid should be removed.
"Free-flow cups are important as other non-drip style ones with valves encourage sucking rather than sipping. The skill of sipping is important for the development of muscles used in speech."
NikkiandNeil on our forum uses different cups for milk and water which she finds effective. "I wanted her milk cup to be very different to her water cup and for a while I put the cup handles on her bottles - to get her used to the idea.
"This means that it looks familiar and they know what to expect. I wanted her water cup to be very different - so she didn't get disappointed when there was no milk in there!"
Getting your child to drink from a cup
While we may be keen to follow the expert advice and stop our babies using bottles it can be really, really hard in reality, especially if babies use the bottle as a comforter.
That was certainly Sophia Fisher’s experience. "My 19 month old daughter won't use a cup, I have spent a small fortune on various types but she will go all day without a drink until I give in and give her her bottle!" she told us on the forum.
Parenting expert Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Sleep Book (Piatkus 2015), says it’s best to take it slowly:
The kindest and gentlest way for a baby to wean from a bottle is for them to naturally self-wean.
This is certainly what Lizzie77 on our forum is doing. She says: "I just don't think Juliet seems ready. I really am trying it during the daytime but she barely seems interested.
"Today, out of interest, I moved the milk from a cup into a bottle (after she'd pretty much refused it) and she took pretty much the lot.
"I don't want to push her but I do worry about her teeth. I'm just going to be mega patient with it as I can see this taking 6 months or so!"
Phasing out the last bottle at night
What might be a particularly tough one to get rid of is that all-comforting bedtime bottle.
"Trying to disassociate the bottle and sleep as early as possible is the best solution," says Sarah Ockwell-Smith.
"For feeds with a bottle, try to move them away from sleep times – eg, give a bottle, then read a story and rock or hug to sleep.
"As your baby associates bottles and sleep less and less you can gradually phase the bottle out and replace it with milk feeds when they are wide awake."
It might be though that your baby is already older and still on a bottle, particularly at bedtime. First up don’t panic, you will get there.
"You should first try to introduce some other comfort objects - e.g: a lovey, a piece of music or a scent they associate with you and feeding with a bottle - before you take the bottle away," advises Sarah.
"This lets your baby associate the new comfort objects with feeling calm and sleepy. After a month, then try to remove the bottle a little earlier each night, until ultimately you can feed, then brush their teeth and complete the rest of the bedtime routine before they fall asleep."
More like this
After that you then need to take the final step and remove the bottle completely and replace it with a cup. Sarah says:
Unfortunately, however you wean the bottle, your baby is likely to be upset and they will cry. Just remember that this is really hard for them. They are not being deliberately naughty or difficult. Respond with lots of reassurance, understanding and hugs.
Looking after your baby’s teeth
And finally while we’re on the subject of putting things in your baby’s mouth remember that you also need to brush their teeth (so much to remember!)
"As soon as your child’s teeth start to come through, introduce them to the idea of cleaning," says dentist Claire Stevens.
"Use a small soft toothbrush to clean the teeth so your child gets used to it. Brush regularly as part of your child’s morning and night-time routine, using a flat smear of fluoride toothpaste (with at least 1000 ppm fluoride)."
And remember if you then go on to give them a bottle to go to bed, you will have reversed all the hard work!
But what about breastfed babies?
As we've already mentioned, WHO recommends breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first 6 months of your baby’s life and then combining "nutritious complementary foods with breastfeeding up to the age of 2 years or beyond".
So we know there will be plenty of babies out there who have never used a bottle and have only been breastfed.
We think moving your baby from the breast to a beaker / cup can be different from moving a baby from bottle to a beaker / cup, so we are creating another article with specific guidance on moving from breast to cup, and will link to it here as soon as we can.
- Why milk's important in your baby's diet
- The best cups and beakers for your baby
- How to get your weaning baby to drink more milk
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