When to stop Bottle Feeding

Eve Reed of Familyfoodworks is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with an extensive background in child and adolescent nutrition and breastfeeding counselling. Eve has shared with us some her expert advice on when to stop the bottle.

Once a baby has reached about 12 months of age they cope best having a routine and knowing what is going to happen in their day. As far as feeding goes, this means having five to six defined mealtimes each day.

For toddlers over 12 months old, milk becomes part of a meal, not a meal in itself and should be drunk from a cup rather than a bottle.  It is important to remember that milk is a food, not just a drink to quench thirst. A 250ml bottle of milk has more kilojoules than 1 weetbix + 100ml milk + 1/2 banana. So if a child has a bottle of milk after waking, it is understandable that they wouldn’t eat breakfast. Similarly, giving a bottle of milk before bed is inappropriate, as your child is often clever enough to figure out that they don’t need to eat dinner because are going to get milk later on.

Toddlers, who drink cows milk from a bottle rather than a cup, after 12 months of age, tend to drink more milk than they need. It takes much less effort for a child to drink from a bottle than a cup – and is often easier for parents as well. Often parents are reluctant to give up the bottle as they worry that they won’t drink enough milk from a cup. It is true that children often drink less milk from a cup, however it is important to remember that children can get the same nutrients from other dairy products like yogurt, cheese and custard. If your child eats other dairy products as well as milk from a cup, they are likely to be meeting their calcium requirements.

If your child continues to drink milk from a bottle after 12 months of age, it can lead to a number of problems. These problems particularly occur if the toddler is drinking more than 500mls of cow’s milk from the bottle. Drinking milk each day and/or including other dairy foods such as yogurt, cheese is important for meeting calcium requirements as well as providing a good source of protein, riboflavin and other nutrients. However, exceeding this amount of milk can lead to serious health problems. These problems include iron deficiency anaemia and tooth decay and middle ear infections if the milk is drunk from a bottle.

If your toddler has too much milk it fills them up and therefore replaces other foods in their diet, especially iron rich foods such as meat, iron-fortified breakfast cereals wholegrain foods, dried fruit and legumes. While cows milk provides important nutrients, it contains little iron. So if a child’s main food is cow’s milk, with little or no iron-rich foods they are at risk of developing iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, listlessness as well as affect behaviour, cognition and motor development, physical performance and concentration.

Other risks associated with the overuse of bottles are tooth decay and middle ear infections, especially if the child lies down while drinking or is given the bottle to go to sleep. The constant contact of teeth and the sugar in milk, or other sweet drinks given from the bottle causes tooth decay. Tooth decay is painful for children and often requires a general anaesthetic to treat it.

Many parents use the bottle as part of the bedtime routine, and it’s true that some children will protest at stopping the bottle, however, they will get used to a new routine where there are books, songs and cuddles before going to bed. Parents often come back and tell me that it was much easier than they thought it would be.

So remember that:

  1. Children don’t need milk from a bottle after about one year of age
  2. Too much milk can replace other foods in a child’s diet and lead to iron deficiency
  3. Children who drink only small amounts of milk from a cup, can get enough calcium from yogurt, cheese and custard

Source: Eve Reed, Familyfoodworks www.familyfoodworks.com.au



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