When to Wean Advice Benefits Children

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When should parents wean their children from bottle feeding? If parents don’t ask, doctors may not tell, but a recent study found that when doctors do offer advice, most babies stop using the bottle by age one year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents wean healthy children from bottle feeding by age 15 months. Many parents, however, continue bottle feeding up to two to three times longer. Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital and the study’s lead author, warns that by the time a child reaches the age of two years, “it becomes very difficult for parents to transition their children away from the bottle. It needs to be done at a younger age when children’s behavior is more easily modified.”

Why is transitioning away from bottle feeding at an early age so important? Dr. Patricia Parkin, staff physician at The Hospital for Sick Children and senior author of the study, noted that “We and others have previously found an association between prolonged bottle feeding (beyond 16 months) and iron deficiency.”

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The research in the study refers to children who drink milk and juice from bottles. Most infant formulas are fortified with iron.

An iron deficiency is associated with behavioral problems, developmental delays, poorer achievement in school, and in rare cases, stroke, according to Parkin. Beyond iron deficiency, children who stay on the bottle too long are at greater risk for tooth decay and obesity.

Maguire notes that just five minutes of advice to parents at their baby’s nine-month checkup about the health impact of prolonged bottle feeding resulted in a 60 percent decline in the number of babies still using the bottle at age two. Most parents who were told about the dangers of long-term bottle feeding weaned their child by his or her first birthday, compared to age 16 months for babies whose parents did not get this advice.

Therefore parents who don’t ask and physicians who don’t provide advice about when it is best to wean a child from bottle feeding risk having a child with some likely avoidable health issues. Maguire says their study “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.”

SOURCES:
American Academy of Pediatrics
St. Michael’s Hospital

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