Your baby is starting on solid food, and may be holding their bottle on their own. Does that mean it’s time for them to transition to a big kid cup and leave the bottle behind?

Here’s how to know when your baby is ready for a sippy cup, and how to make the transition as painless as possible.

Why Should You Wean from the Bottle?

Your baby loves the bottle. Sucking comforts them, and it’s an important part of their bedtime ritual. Even though switching may be difficult, there are some important reasons to get your baby off the bottle and learning to drink from a cup.

First, as your baby gets older, they need more calories from solid food and less from milk. Continuing to drink bottles can mean they get most of their calories from formula or milk, which means they’ll be less interested in solid food.

Second, drinking bottles of formula or milk at night, after you brush their teeth, can cause tooth decay. So as your baby gets older, it’s important to wean them off the bottle and help them switch to a cup.

When Is Your Baby Ready to Transition to a Sippy Cup?

Your baby will continue to need breast milk or formula from the bottle until they’re at least 12 months old. But you can start to introduce a cup long before that. Most babies are ready to start using a cup around 6 to 8 months, not long after they start solid foods.

At first, you can replace just one bottle a day with a meal of solid food and a sippy cup of milk or water. For most babies, it’s best if you don’t replace a major meal. Right now, they’re still getting most of their calories from the bottle. So choose a meal when they normally don’t drink as much — maybe lunch, or a midmorning snack. Instead of their usual bottle, give them solid food and a cup. If they protest and ask for a bottle, reassure them that the bottle is coming later.

Wait a week or two before replacing another bottle with a cup and a meal. Your baby needs time to adjust to getting more calories from solid food, and to get used to not having their bottle. You can continue to replace one bottle a day about once a week.

For most babies, the bedtime bottle will be the last one you’ll drop, since it’s usually a key part of your bedtime routine. Make sure you brush or wipe baby’s teeth after their bottle before you lay them down. You can plan to replace their bedtime bottle and have them completely weaned from the bottle by around 12 to 18 months.

What Should Your Baby Drink in the Sippy Cup?

Until your baby is over a year old, they should only drink water, breast milk, or formula. Wait to introduce cow’s milk until they’re at least 12 months old. Talk to their doctor if you have dairy allergies in your family.

Most toddlers enjoy juice in a cup, but it’s a good idea to not put juice in a bottle, since your baby could drink too much sugar. Wait to introduce juice until after they’re over a year and have finished weaning from the bottle. Juice provides no extra nutritional value, and many pediatricians advise avoiding it altogether. If you give your toddler juice, keep it to no more than one small cup per day.

If your baby refuses the cup and asks for a bottle instead, you can make the cup more appealing by diluting the milk in the bottle with water and giving undiluted milk in the cup. However, don’t do this for your baby’s main bottle meals until they’re close to weaning and are getting most of their calories from solid food.

What About Sucking for Comfort?

One of the main reasons why weaning from the bottle is difficult is because your baby wants to suck for comfort.

A cup of milk is a good replacement for the calories of a bottle, but it doesn’t replace the comfort of being cuddled in your arms while sucking from a bottle. You can help ease this transition by spending special time cuddling before or after a meal, and by giving your baby a lovey, blanket, or pacifier.

Mistakes to Avoid

As your toddler gets used to drinking from a cup, they may want to drink from it often. But sipping constantly from a cup of juice or milk can cause tooth decay. Just like with the bottle, you should continue to limit drinks (other than water) between meals. And, of course, drinking in bed after brushing teeth can also cause cavities. Switch to water at night.