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Why stop milk from a bottle?


From birth to about one year of age, infants develop from being fed on demand to having a structured mealtime routine. From about one year of age, they cope best having a routine and knowing what is going to happen throughout their day. As far as feeding goes, this means having five to six defined mealtimes each day.

At this stage it is appropriate for toddlers to be drinking from a cup rather than a bottle. Milk becomes part of a meal not a meal in itself.  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 won’t be hungry for  breakfast. Similarly, giving a bottle of milk before bed is unnecessary from a nutrition point of view.

Toddlers who drink cows milk from a bottle rather than a cup, after 12 months of age, tend to get more dairy foods 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. No mess, hunger is satisfied quickly and no food preparation is required.

Parents are often 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 get the same nutrients as are in milk from yogurt, cheese and custard.  Serving a dairy food at three meals a day is enough to be meet their calcium requirements.

Drinking milk from a bottle after this age can lead to a number of problems. These problems particularly occur if the toddler is drinking more than 500mls of cows 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 health problems. These problems include iron deficiency anaemia and tooth decay and middle ear infections if the milk is drunk from a bottle

This extra milk can fill toddlers up and therefore replace 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 very little iron. So if a child is drinking more milk than needed, and eating very 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 the teeth with the sugar in milk given from the bottle causes tooth decay. Tooth decay is painful for children and often requires a general anaesthetic to treat it.  Recurrent middle ear infections are also painful and can have long term effects on hearing as well as requiring surgery.

I hear you saying “But they like the bottle and it is part of the routine of going to bed”. It’s true that some children will protest at stopping the bottle. However, they will get used to a new routine such as  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

So if your child is over one year and still drinking milk from a bottle in addition to mealtimes,  give up the bottle.

If you would like help in stopping your child’s bottle contact me.