Care and Feeding

Drinking Problems

It’s time for my kids to stop drinking milk from the bottle. Should we go cold turkey?

A crying preschooler holding an empty milk bottle.
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Dear Care and Feeding,

I need advice without the heaping side of judgment I would get from asking other parents face-to-face: How do I gently wean my preschoolers from drinking milk out of bottles? I have two, and for a variety of reasons related to very difficult life circumstances, both are still drinking out of bottles well past their second birthdays.

I’m not interested in other people’s condemnation; we did what we had to do to survive a couple of really tough years, and bottles were the only comfort items my kids ever attached to. They don’t fall asleep with bottles, and their teeth are healthy. I am ready to be done, but given that the bottles have a strong comfort component, I’m not comfortable just taking them away cold turkey. Any ideas for helping ease my sweet kiddos into drinking milk from cups?

—This Sucks

Dear TS,

I’m so sorry that you’ve gone through what sounds like a terribly difficult time. I definitely do not judge parents of toddlers for having a hard time because toddlers are—in case you haven’t noticed—VERY DIFFICULT TO PARENT.

The key here is you don’t have to do it cold turkey. You never do—not when they’re 14 months and not when they’re over 2 years. Don’t let the shame you may be personally feeling trickle down and show up in how harshly you treat their habits. They need patience and time to transition and practice, just as anyone who is being asked to embrace a new reality does.

I might suggest getting a sippy cup with handles and starting out by switching one feeding a day. You can also give them the cup to play with and use as an object just in general, even in nonfeeding times. Gradually increase the bottle replacements until it’s all done. Make sure you don’t change much else. If they always have a bottle in the back seat of the car, then just give the sippy cup in the back seat, but keep the times, rituals, and places exactly the same. If your kids are using the bottle to self-soothe, I might suggest introducing another transition object, like a toy or teddy bear, that can fill in.

The one caveat I’d give is that every once in a while, a kid is just really attached to the bottle, like even if you switch it out just one teeny-tiny little time, they completely self-destruct. With kids like this, I think a very specific cold turkey plan can be effective. Start weeks before telling them that they are so big and soon they’re going to drink out of big-kid cups. Mention it every day, every feeding. Point them to examples of other kids, if you can, who are drinking out of big-kid cups. Then, the day before, take them to the store to help pick out big-kid cups, and make this also a fun and pleasant outing.

Then, when the day comes, you can do some goodbye-bottle rituals, some celebrating, and some sippy cup showing-off around the neighborhood. Then toss that shit and never look back. It’s not easy, but it’s totally possible!

Good luck.