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Angela Oswalt, MSW

As babies begin to eat more solid foods, they no longer need the bottle or breast to fill their nutritional needs. However, breastfeeding and bottle-feeding do not supply only physical needs; they also fill the social, cognitive, and emotional needs of the child. Therefore, when weaning babies or toddlers, it's important not only to replace the milk with solid foods but also to replace the love and nurturing from intimate feeding times with other forms. Different medical and child development experts disagree about the appropriate time to wean babies from the breast or bottle, but the majority agrees that weaning best occurs gradually between ages 12 and 24 months. At first, caretakers could omit baby's least-favorite bottle or breast times, such as mid-morning, and replace that feeding with a special playtime or cuddling time. This way, the baby is losing a feeding but gaining a new time of love and social interaction.

During this weaning period, caregivers can choose not to offer the breast or bottle, but provide it if the child is demanding it, as not to make weaning a hostile process. As toddlers begin to become mobile around the house, parents and caregivers can enforce a rule that the child can't drink while toddling around the house. This will also decrease dependence on the bottle. This rule is good for both cups and bottles, because the constant sipping of any sugary fluids can cause tooth decay in toddlers. The most difficult feedings to wean toddlers from are often the bedtime and naptime bottles. This can be accomplished by not allowing toddlers to fall asleep with the bottle in their hands or mouths. Also, if it's time to wean and toddlers are being stubborn about letting go of that bedtime bottle, gradually water down that bottle to transition even more slowly.

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