It’s sometimes hard for parents to follow their young child’s lead, especially when it comes to weaning. A child will nurse or use a bottle only as long as he needs to, but it can be hard to trust that a child will stop on his own. Parents sometimes try to hurry their child by taking away the bottle, breast, or pacifier before he’s ready.
There’s a lot of pressure on parents to wean their child. The pressure can be strong when a child reaches one year old and increases as he grows. Friends and relatives ask, “What’s he doing with a bottle? Can’t he drink from a cup yet?” The pediatrician may say, “He doesn’t need to nurse or use a bottle anymore.” Others may comment, “He’s too big for a bottle.” Negative remarks are directed not just at a child, but at the parents as well. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you still nursing?” “Why don’t you take his bottle away?” “He doesn’t need a sippy cup anymore.”
Parents feel especially self-conscious when judged by other parents. If parents of a two-year-old believe theirs is the only child on the playground who still drinks from a bottle, they’ll wonder how it looks to other people and what other parents are thinking. They’ll doubt their own judgment and wonder what they’ve done wrong or what’s wrong with their child: “Do I baby him too much? Do we give in to him?”
If the bottle, breast, or pacifier is taken away from your child too soon, he’ll probably look for other ways to satisfy his sucking needs. He might become irritable or start sucking his blanket. One mother, who threw out her fifteen-month-old’s bottles on the advice of her pediatrician, said, “My son seems OK, but he started sucking his thumb.” Some breast-fed babies who are weaned at twelve months may not yet be ready to give up sucking. If they’re only offered a sippy cup, they may suck the top of the cup just as they would suck on a nipple.
If you feel the need to hurry the weaning process, you should do so carefully. The process should be stretched over several weeks so your child is not forced to abruptly give up something important. And remember that many toddlers and preschool children relax with a bottle or sippy cup before going to sleep.
As your child gives up the bottle or breast, you may have ambivalent feelings. If you nursed, you may feel good about “having your body to yourself” again, or you may be glad to stop fussing with bottles. But you also may feel sad to give up the warm, close feeling you had as you held your child and offered him milk or watched him lie contentedly with his bottle. You also may miss the free time you had when he drank quietly by himself. Whatever your feelings, impatience or reluctance, in time your child will be weaned. If you can wait until he is ready to wean himself, the process will be simpler and more natural.