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How to transition from bottle to cup: a guide for parents
Phasing out bottles and getting your child used to a sippy cup can be tricky. Here's our guide to making this change as smooth and stress-free as possible.
By Poppy O'Neill | Last updated Apr 28, 2023
Babies and toddlers aren’t fond of change, so any time you introduce something new to their routine, there are going to be challenges. Weaning is one big change during the first year that has many of the parents in our forums tearing their hair out; and one of the most difficult parts of weaning is transitioning from a baby bottle to a sippy cup.
For babies, drinking milk from a bottle represents far more than just a meal. It brings them comfort, an opportunity for a cuddle and often a way to fall asleep. So, why is it important to move them onto a cup? The NHS says that drinking milk from a bottle past the age of one can lead to tooth decay. This is because drinks flow very slowly through a bottle's teat, which means the milk stays in contact with the baby's teeth for much longer.
In addition to this, learning to drink from a cup helps the muscles in your baby's face develop, which are used for eating and speaking.
If you introduce a sippy cup at the same time as solid food, your child will be able to get used to both at the same time. Gradually phasing out bottles as they gain confidence drinking from a cup and get more of their nutrition from solid food will make the whole process less stressful for everybody.
Here's our guide to transitioning from bottle to cup.
When should you transition from bottle to cup?
The NHS recommends introducing a cup of water alongside solid foods from the age of 6 months, and to cut out most bottle feeds by your child's first birthday.
These ages are just a guide, so don’t worry too much if your little one takes to cups a bit later, or wants to keep that bedtime bottle feed going for a while beyond the age of one.
What should you put in your baby’s sippy cup?
From 6-12 months:
- Water: no need to boil it first once they’re 6 months old
- Formula: made up as normal
- Breastmilk: collected using a breast pump or by expressing
12 months and up:
- Cow’s or goat’s milk
- Vegan milk alternatives: except rice milk, which is not suitable for under-5s due to arsenic content
- Diluted juice or smoothies: one part juice/smoothie to 10 parts water for under-5s
What about breastfeeding?
The risk of tooth decay doesn’t apply to breastfeeding - and in fact studies suggest breastfeeding lowers the risk of tooth decay - so there’s no need to stop breastfeeding before you or your baby are ready.
Experts advise introducing a cup of water, formula or breastmilk once your baby starts on solids, and continuing breastfeeding as normal. As your child gets more of their calories from food, you'll probably see their appetite for breastmilk decrease.
Related: The best changing bags - stylish bags Mumsnetters love
"In terms of swapping to cows milk... do it gradually! We just switched and oh god, the nappies were horrific!"
- Mumsnet user Bol87
What’s the best kind of sippy cup to transition from bottles?
The best sippy cups, according to dentists and child nutritionists, are free-flow or open cups. This is because sipping is better for babies' teeth and muscle development than sucking. Dentists and health experts say no-spill and valved types aren't as good for your baby's teeth.
Otherwise, look for cups that are easy for your baby to use (as this is all about giving them independence so think handles, easy-grip and easy drinking design); leak-free and spill-free (especially important for outings); easy to clean; robust; and with no harmful chemicals (such as BPA-free).
"My son drinks water out of this and gets all excited when he sees the cup.”
Tommee Tippee Essential Basic First Cup
"They're brilliant, good size for little hands and angled so they can see the water coming at them. Takes a little while (and a lot of spills) to get used to but definitely worth it."
Bickie Pegs Doidy Cup
Top tips for an easy transition from bottle to cup
- Go slow: Just like eating solids, expect your baby to experiment, take time to get used to a sippy cup and make a huge mess while doing it. Starting early and not expecting too much will help take the stress out of the process.
- Sit with your baby: Slowly tilt the cup to their mouth, so they can take a sip of water.
- Go for two handles: Opt for a cup with two handles to start with - these are easier for babies to hold.
- Open or free-flow is the way to go: Use an open, tilted (like a Doidy Cup) or free-flow cup to start off with, so they learn to sip rather than suck.
- Keep up the calcium: If moving to a cup means your child is drinking less milk, offer plenty of alternative sources of calcium, like cheese, yoghurts and leafy green vegetables
- Gradually reduce bottles: One by one, replace bottle feeds with milk or water from a cup. Most parents find the bedtime feed is the hardest and last to go.
- Up the comfort: As bottles offer comfort as well as nutrition, make sure your child has lots of other sources of comfort to help ease the transition away from bottles. A best teddy bear, comfort blanket and plenty of bedtime stories will help them settle without a bottle.
- Be kind to yourself: Child nutritionist Charlotte Stirling Reed says “Don’t forget to recognise and praise yourself for the successes you have achieved with your little one. No matter how small; even if it’s your child simply choosing a new cup.”
What Mumsnet users say...
"We started at around 11 months. Went from 3 bottles of formula a day to changing to lunch time one for a cup of cows milk. Then a few weeks later the morning one. We kept the bedtime one as a bottle of cows milk for a little bit as it was routine and I didn’t want to wreck that too much, but both of my kids were off bottles and onto cups by 15m. Both times it was very smooth transition and they only fussed the one night and then accepted the change." (Mumsnetter Caterina99)
"In terms of swapping to cows milk.. do it gradually! We just switched and oh god, the nappies were horrific! We switched fully back to formula until her poo was normal again & then reintroduced it slowly! We had no problems second time around." (Mumsnet user Bol87)
For more information on weaning your baby, take a look at Mumsnet's guide to introducing solid foods.