Bye-Bye “Baba”

By Nancy Gottesman

When my son was 20 months old, I’d been trying to wean him from his beloved “baba” for seven months. My attempts to cajole, bribe, offer a substitute or simply refuse him always led to a toddler tantrum…and me rushing in with a bottle of milk. So I stooped to deceit. I told my son he was a “big kid” and that we’d be leaving all our bottles with his 6-month-old “baby cousin” who needed them now. Miraculously, my last-ditch stab at weaning worked. But I’ve since learned that there are much gentler, saner and faster ways to wean—not to mention more truthful. (Of course I took the bottles when we left his cousin’s house! Do you really think I had faith in this hail-Mary scheme?)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends complete bottle-weaning for healthy children by 15 months old. Yet many parents continue to offer bottles well past this age—some until their children are 3 to 4 years old! In one analysis of toddler feeding, researchers found that 40 percent were still bottle-fed at 24 months, 16 percent at 36 months and 8 percent at 48 months. With so many children still enjoying their babas beyond 15 months, why does the AAP advocate weaning so early? “Studies have shown that prolonged bottle use puts a child at higher risk for dental cavities, iron deficiency and obesity,” explains Jonathon L. Maguire, MD, MSc, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto and a pediatrician and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto who studies young children’s nutrition and feeding practices.

We know breaking the bottle habit isn’t going to be easy. But doing so now will confer significant health benefits to your child in the future. We asked our pediatric experts to share their bottle-weaning wisdom with Baby & Toddler parents. Their simple tips will have you saying “bye-bye baba” in no time (and with a lot less effort and time than it took me!).

9–15 months

Talk with your pediatrician first
Your pediatrician can positively influence how and when you’ll wean your baby. In a study conducted by Maguire and published in Pediatrics, just five minutes (or less) of discussion about the health dangers of bottle drinking at the nine-month well-baby visit resulted in a 60 percent drop in bottle use among 2-year-olds. And most of these babies were off bottles by their first birthday. “A doctor’s message to parents can be very effective,” confirms Maguire.

Many parents whose children bottle-feed beyond 15 months are unaware of the specific health risks. When they discover that they’re doing their baby a disservice, they begin the weaning process. When your baby is 9 months old, you’ll learn from your pediatrician that:

• A recent study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that 23 percent of children who still used bottles at age 2 were obese by the time they were 5 1/2 years old. Why? Bottle-fed kids take in more calories from cow’s milk than children who use cups. 1- to 2-year-olds need 900 to 1,000 calories daily, which should include just 16 ounces of milk. Bottle-fed toddlers generally drink four 8-ounce bottles of whole milk daily. That’s 600 calories from milk alone!

• The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that: children never be put to sleep with a bottle containing juice, soda, cow’s milk or breast milk; all juice be served in a cup; and infants be bottle weaned at 12 to 14 months. Bottle fluids tend to sit in the mouth longer than those taken from a cup, leading to early decay. “Kids can get tooth abscesses that may spread to their jaws and skin,” says Ruby Roy, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, who practices at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

• Iron deficiency most commonly affects 9- to 24-month olds. The cause? Too much cow’s milk, which not only contains less iron than many other foods your child should be eating, but also makes it difficult for little bodies to absorb iron.