Ask AF: Breaking a Dependency on Bottles for Comfort

Children who were adopted after the newborn period often come home with a dependency on bottles. Here's how to help your child break this unhealthy habit.

Q: When our baby came home to us, at 10 months old, she was nearly 100 percent on the U.S. weight chart and only 25 percent on height — she’d spent most of her short life pacified with a bottle. She’s been home for two months and still has meltdowns during mealtimes because she demands the instant gratification she once got from her bottle. Please help.


A: Like many children living in less than perfect circumstances, your daughter learned to comfort herself with her bottle, rather than with the care of a reliable, nurturing adult. Your job now is to help her unlearn this adaptive behavior, and, more importantly, learn to seek comfort from the two of you. A third goal, to help her learn healthy eating habits and maintain a healthy weight, may seem like the most urgent, but this will actually follow several months after the first two are met.

Twelve months is the usual age to discontinue bottles and to switch from formula to whole cow’s milk. For children adopted after the newborn period, however, the bottle can be a powerful nurturing tool. But save the bottle for feeding in your arms, encouraging eye and skin contact. Also, you might ask your pediatrician about feeding a lower-fat milk. Throughout the day, make a point to reassure her with a hug or a kiss when she is hurt or upset, even if she doesn’t ask for it. Over time, she’ll learn to find comfort in your arms, not a bottle.

At mealtimes, give her healthy table foods and water in a cup, and don’t limit how much she eats. As she learns to trust you to provide plentiful food, as well as comfort and nurturing, she’ll slow down her intake and begin too follow your example of long-term, healthy eating habits.

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