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Whether you breastfeed, bottle feed, or do a combo of the two, at some point you'll wonder: Is it time to move on to a cup?

If you just breastfeed, the easiest switch is to skip bottles entirely and go straight to cups around the 1-year mark, or whenever you decide to stop nursing. If your child happily sucks on bottles, his first birthday might still be a good choice. That's because you're already changing from formula to cow's milk around that time.

Missed that window? Waiting until your baby is a little older? No worries, but don’t wait too long. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests saying bye-bye to the bottle before your baby is 18 months old. "I'd say definitely before age 2, but the sooner the better," says Keith T. Ayoob, EdD. He’s an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y.

As a registered dietitian who works with kids, Ayoob snatches the bottle from kids as old as 5 -- and he says it isn't pretty. "You have to know your child, but in general, the longer you wait the harder it is."

Why the Bottle Needs to Go

A bottle gives food and comfort to many children, so letting your little one use it for as long as she likes might seem harmless enough. But there are several reasons why it's smart to switch to cups:

Bottles boost tooth decay. Milk has lactose, a type of sugar. And if you're giving your child juice in a bottle (though you shouldn't), that's even worse. "The acid in juice is a nightmare for teeth," Ayoob says.

Milk should remain an important part of your child's diet, and juice (best watered down) is OK now and then. Sucked from a bottle though, the sugar and acid will stay longer on her teeth, which could lead to cavities. Letting a baby go to sleep with a bottle is especially bad, because your body makes less saliva (which helps to wash away food particles) while you're asleep.

Prolonged use is linked to obesity. Research shows that kids who are still using a bottle at the age of 2 are more likely to be obese by the time they're almost 6. Ayoob says some kids walk around with a bottle in their mouths all the time, even though they’re eating plenty of solid food. This can result in too many calories.

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