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Weaning babies from breast- or bottle feeding to a cup usually comes at a busy time in their lives. At the age most babies are ready to wean, they may also be developing their hand-eye coordination, teething, and learning to crawl.

And like those milestones, weaning baby can leave you with dozens of questions. How long does weaning take? When should you start? What’s the best way to do it?

To help you wean your baby, we asked pediatricians and parents on WebMD’s parenting message boards for their tips on making the change easier.

The Key to Weaning Baby from Breastfeeding or Bottles

Many parents delay weaning. There’s the feeling that it will take forever. There’s baby’s tendency to be messy with food. Or, maybe it just seems that weaning will be stressful for all of you.

Weaning to a cup also does more than encourage your little one to make the transition to solid foods. It stimulates two-handed development, and promotes mealtime family interaction.

The key to success when weaning your baby from the bottle or breast is simple: Start early, says Laura Jana, MD, Nebraska pediatrician, and co-author of Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup.

“Many [parents] wait until they think their kids can successfully handle the cup instead of treating it like a learning experience,” Jana tells WebMD. Instead, she says, parents should let their children get the feel of the cup even before their dexterity and coordination are spill-proof perfect.

When to Wean From Breast- and Bottle Feeding

When are babies ready to wean?

Ideally, it’s a good idea to introduce the cup to your baby as early as six months, though some make the transition even sooner.

And, some make it later. “I did baby-led weaning, and by around nine months [Gwyneth] was down to nursing three times a day, and then…quit altogether around 11 months,” says message board participant Sarah.

Although every baby is different, look for hints that your baby is ready to wean. A breastfed baby may:

  • Suck on your breast a few times and then stop, or even refuse the breast
  • Get distracted easily while breastfeeding
  • Show growing interest in drinking from a cup

 

The Road to Sippy Cups: How to Wean Your Baby

Once you think your baby is ready for weaning, what’s the best way to go about it? Parents and pros like Atlanta pediatrician Jennifer Shu, MD, co-author, with Jana, of Heading Home With Your Newborn and Food Fights, suggest:

  • Start weaning baby by skipping a bottle feeding every five to seven days.
  • Put whatever liquid your child is used to in his sippy cup -- whether it’s breast milk or baby formula.
  • Put a little more liquid in baby’s cup and a little less in his bottle each time.
  • If your baby is old enough to show his preferences, let him get involved in selecting the cup -- he’ll be more likely to use it.
  • Give your little one the liquids he likes best in the sippy cup and the ones he likes least in his bottle.

How long does weaning to a cup take? It varies, but generally, Shu says, “anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple of months.” It depends partly on the age and development of the baby, as well as the consistency of the parents.