Health Canada recommends that babies be fed breast milk exclusively until six months, at which time they are developmentally ready to supplement with different foods and modes of feeding.1 A sippy cup may be introduced from six months on, given your baby is able to sit up on his own. To transition to a sippy cup, your baby needs a strong grasp and hand-eye coordination, which he has been practicing over the last two months. This generally coincides with the introduction of solid food.
Some mothers choose to go directly from breastfeeding to the introduction of a sippy cup, skipping bottles altogether. Either way, key to successful weaning is to make the process gradual, so the change is easier on your baby. Your baby may need some extra comfort and attention during the transition time since sucking on the breast or bottle is more than just a way to get food for many babies – it is soothing as well. Tips for the introduction of the sippy cup include:
- Be prepared for lots of banging and dropping of the cup, a normal part of the transition.
- Cups with snap-on lids and a special valve to prevent spills are a good idea as otherwise; messes are inevitable, particularly during the learning stage.
- At first, you may choose to have the cup just hold water in order for baby to practice drinking from it. Once baby is used to the cup you may then choose to fill it with break milk or formula.
- Encourage your baby to hold the cup with both hands. Keep in mind that it will be heavier with liquid, so look for a cup that is lightweight.
- Show your baby how to use the cup by example, and help guide the spout to his mouth.
- You may need to reintroduce the sippy cup daily before your baby takes to it.
- Start the transition to sippy cup during meals and snacks, letting baby nurse or bottle feed before bed. Once the transition is successful at meals and snacks, you can then introduce the sippy cup before sleep.
- Your baby should not have constant access to the cup, but should be offered it at certain times, e.g. during feedings or for set intervals between feedings. Constant sipping is not a good habit to encourage and can cause tooth decay.
- If you introduce juice to your baby, make sure that it is 100% juice rather than juice drinks or powdered mixes. Limit juice intake to no more than 120 mL per day to avoid baby from filling up on it. You may want to dilute the juice with water and spread intake throughout the day.
- Expect a certain amount of drooling and/or spitting as your baby gets used to the cup. Your baby will also need time to adjust to the flow of the liquid from the cup, and at the beginning, much of it may end up on his chin.
This transition is a big deal to most babies. If there are other major events going on in baby’s life at this time, e.g. if baby has a new caregiver or if it is a particularly busy or stressful period for your family, you may want to wait a couple of weeks to wean baby from the breast or bottle.
Healthy teeth and mouth. Experts agree that frequent sipping on breast milk, formula, or juice can cause cavities. A cup is beneficial because it does not cause the liquid to collect around the teeth and it cannot be taken to bed, as a bottle can.2 Although a cup can be better for healthy teeth, frequent cleaning of your baby’s mouth is still important. Even before baby’s teeth arrive, you should begin by wiping the inside of his mouth with a finger brush or clean washcloth.3 Once a few teeth arrive, you can use a soft toothbrush – with water only until your baby is able to spit out toothpaste, or a specially formulated toothpaste that can be swallowed4 – and brush in a circular motion. Do this twice a day, reserving one cleaning for after baby’s nightly feeding.
How Long Is the Weaning Process?
It varies from baby to baby and may take from a couple of weeks to a couple of months depending on the baby’s age and attachment to the breast or bottle. Health Canada, recommends that from six months on you continue to complement your baby’s feedings with breast milk for up to 2 years and beyond.5
1 Food And Nutrition http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/infant-nourrisson/nut_infant_nourrisson_term_6-eng.php November 19, 2010
2 Annabel Karmel, First Meals (New York: DK Publishing 2001) 33
3 Caring For Your Teeth and Mouth - Children http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/oral-bucco/care-soin/child-enfant-eng.phd November 19, 2010
4 Your Baby's Teeth http://www.thenewparentsguide.com/article-your-babys-teeth.htm November 19, 2010
5 Food and Nutrition http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/pubs/infant-nourrisson/nut_infant_nourrisson_term_3-eng.php November 19, 2010