A single, five-minute conversation with parents during their baby's regularly scheduled 9-month checkup may be enough to jumpstart bottle weaning, according to new research published online July 12, 2010 in the journal Pediatrics. The study, conducted by doctors at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada, followed a group of 201 children until they were 2 years old, with some of the children and parents placed in an intervention group. In addition to standard nutrition guidance for the 9-month well-child visit, parents in the intervention group were given a sippy cup and instructions for using the cup to transition their child from the bottle. The parents also received additional education about the risks of continued bottle use, including tooth decay, iron depletion, and poorer performance in school. Doctors noted that this extra consultation lasted less than five minutes.
After following the children to age 2, no significant increase in iron deficiency was noted among the intervention group. However, this group was significantly less likely to be using a bottle during the day or in bed at age 2, and as a group had been weaned 4 months earlier than the control group.
"This shows it's possible for health professionals to positively influence the health behavior of young children before they develop unhealthy habits and will hopefully lead to healthier children and healthier adults that they become," says Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael's and lead author of the study.
Most of the babies whose parents received the advice stopped using the bottle by their first birthday, compared to 16 months for babies whose parents received no instruction, Dr. Maguire says. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends complete bottle weaning for healthy children by 15 months, but Dr. Maguire says many doctors and parents are not aware of this. Many parents continue bottle feeding well past that time, even until their children are 3 or 4 years old.
"If physicians counsel parents of young infants about the dangers of prolonged bottle use and when to stop using the bottle, the counseling actually works," says Dr. Maguire.