My son declared a milk strike. He stared defiantly into my husband’s eyes over the rim of his sippy cup. "Go ahead. Make me drink," he seemed to say. I watched from a distance, not daring to get involved. One toddler against milk-kind, and I wasn’t sure who would win.
This battle started a few days before when in a moment of mom foolishness, I decided to switch him from a bottle to a sippy cup for milk. I had wanted to make the switch earlier than 18 months, but as a working mom, I seemed to be late with everything.
At my son's last check-up, the pediatrician reminded me that using a bottle could eventually ruin his teeth. The plunge came when I picked him up from daycare and saw that all the other toddlers were drinking their milk from sippy cups; he was the only one sucking on a bottle.
I casually told Lulu, his daycare provider, “He can drink from a sippy cup, you know.” As if this had been going on for months. This is when the milk strike began.
I knew how much he loved his bottle, but I wasn’t aware of the depth of that feeling. I really didn’t think switching to sippy would be a big deal. Other times in the past, when I worried about stopping or changing something it hadn’t been hard. At five months, when he woke up each time his pacifier came out of his mouth, I struggled with the decision to take it away. The prospect terrified me. I called his pediatrician to ask if it would cause any psychological damage.
Finally, I threw out all of his pacifiers. He didn’t even seem to miss them. There was never a moment of protest. The same thing happened when I moved him from my room to his crib. I anticipated sleepless nights, but I don’t even think he missed me. Honestly, I missed him.
Not the bottle though.
But switching to sippy began the long saga of tantrums for his bottle or baba as he lovingly called it. I had failed, but I had learned some things along the way.
Before any drastic moves, arm yourself with mom knowledge
I had read the wellness handout at my son’s 12-month check-up about exchanging the bottle for the sippy cup, but at the time I thought it was an unnecessary change. My son could suck on a bottle for 30 minutes or more in his crib some days, giving me that extra time to relax. If we were in the grocery store, I could give him a bottle and finish shopping.
Sometimes when he woke up at night, a warm bottle was the only thing that helped him to go back to sleep. It wasn’t that I felt he wasn’t ready, I wasn’t ready either. I didn’t care what the experts said - the bottle was here to stay.
But I was wrong.
Taking this step wasn’t about what “we” were ready for; it was about what was right for the health of my child. Sigh. Research from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort revealed that roughly 22 percent of children still using the bottle at two years of age were obese. I was aware that prolonged bottle use caused tooth decay and crooked positioning of the permanent teeth, but that it increased obesity floored me.
Unfortunately, obesity in children is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “...about one in five school-aged children (ages 6–19) has obesity.” Obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years. In the HBO documentary, “The Weight of the Nation”, diet is one of the biggest factors causing obesity. Milk is a necessary part of a child’s diet.
Yet, I never thought about how a child receives milk as important. Taking away the bottle is a way to decrease the chances of obesity for your child. In my case, taking away the bottle was torture, but educating myself as to why helped strengthen my resolve during those I’m the worst mother ever moments.
Take the bottle away earlier, rather than later
Making a big change at 12 months is easier than at 18 months. The reason for this has to do with developing self, language, and memory. If I gave him bananas in a green bowl, he now wanted bananas only in that green bowl. I made the mistake of giving him a cookie on the commute home from daycare, and now he screams for a cookie every time he gets in the car. At 12 months he probably would have forgotten this mom error.
At 18 months, drinking milk from a bottle is a fully developed habit and one not easily forgotten. It’s like the difference between sleep training at 18 months versus six. The older the child becomes, the harder it is to change ingrained habits. Besides the real health concerns of continued bottle use, making this transition as early as possible is much easier. I’m pretty sure the milk strike would never have happened if I'd listened to the advice I'd received.
Don't give into a toddler's demands
I’ve never felt as bad as I did listening to him screaming for his baba. By the second day, I gave in and handed him a bottle for breakfast. The milk was gone in seconds. When I picked him up from daycare that afternoon, I found him in a milk war with Lulu. Lulu's been watching kids for 30 years. I not only trust her completely with my son but rely on her for parenting advice.
“Whatever you do,” she told me, "do not give him a bottle again. Or this will go on forever.” I slinked away with my screaming son, not daring to admit I'd given him the bottle. Lulu was right. The milk war intensified and never ended. I resigned myself to the fact that he would never drink milk gain. I realized my inconsistency had made the situation worse. Somewhere in his little brain, I planted the seed. He knew: "My mom’s a wimp. She always gives in."
Remember dairy can come from many different sources
As the milk strike wore on, I became increasingly concerned about his dairy intake. He refused milk in any form. We tried chocolate milk, ice cream, and smoothies. My son could sniff out milk like a young Sherlock. Research shows that toddlers need about two cups of milk per day.
I spoke to his pediatrician, who explained that he doesn’t have to get calcium and Vitamin D solely from milk. He can get it from other sources. Yogurt and cheese are great substitutes. I began to give him yogurt in the morning with fresh fruit and then eggs with veggies and cheese at night. String cheese is one of his favorite snacks, so whenever possible I gave him a stick to munch on. I learned that if a toddler goes on a milk strike, not all dairy nutrition is lost. You just have to think outside of the milk carton.
Take the bottle away slowly, not all at once
Going cold turkey wasn't smart when it came to my son’s bottle. In fact, this made him dig in his heels further. The stubbornness definitely comes from my husband’s side of the family. My husband disagrees, of course. Okay, maybe he gets it from me.
Wherever this stubbornness comes from, instead of taking away the bottle all at once, I should have replaced one bottle of milk at a time with a sippy cup first. Not only that, I should have started at home first, then at daycare. It’s better to take the bottle away slowly than to enter into a milk war. It became apparent rather fast that I was not going to win that war. I couldn’t force him to drink milk. I couldn’t entice him. Some things can be taken away all at once; others require a longer transition.
Try not to associate one kind of cup with one kind of liquid
One reason I thought switching from a bottle to a sippy cup wouldn’t be a big deal was that he already used a sippy cup. He had for months. What I hadn’t realized was that he only associated sippy cups with water. Every single time he got milk, it was in a bottle.
Now, this might not have been a big deal for 12 months, but at 18 months he was used to the routine. In fact, I was always telling other moms what a believer I was in a routine. His nap time was always at the same time. His bedtime routine never changed. I had trained my son to expect milk from only a bottle. I had read about having two of the same kind of lovey in case one is lost, but I had never expected his lovey to be his bottle. If I had to do it all over again, I would have him drink milk from a sippy cup consistently before taking the bottle away.
Don’t force your toddler to drink milk
The Battle of the Bottle at the Ok Corral continued with my husband and son. As my son shook his head, chanting "No. No. No," my husband chanted back, "Drink your milk. Drink your milk. Drink your milk!" Eventually, both gave up exhausted. Not one drop from his cup was missing. We then tried every cup imaginable. He even got to choose a cup.
Next, we allowed him to use a real glass cup. We even allowed him to watch Peppa Pig, while munching on cookies and holding a glass of milk in his hand. All the cookies disappeared, but the milk traveled only as far as the carpet. The more we insisted, the stronger my son’s resolve became. It’s better to not make a big deal of the standoff; otherwise, the battle will never end.
The other day I came across a study discussed in Time Magazine’s article, “Why it’s great to have a stubborn child,” which found that stubbornness can lead to success later on in life. When I told my husband this, he nodded proudly. "He gets that from my side," he exclaimed.
My son’s determination to drink milk only from a bottle seemed to have brought us closer as a family. I couldn’t foresee anything changing in the near future, but I had learned something much more important than just how not to take away the bottle. I had learned a valuable lesson about my son – he had grit.
Have you ever had a hard time transitioning from a bottle to a sippy? Or another transition that you learned a lot from? I would love to hear your story. Share it in the comments below.