Baby to Big Kid!
My wife still calls our 8 year-old “our baby”. Just picking her up and giving her the biggest hug in the world is a great feeling! Of course our 11 year old (going on 15) will have no part of that anymore! Once we get past those first few months of sleep deprivation, I think most of us are thrilled and overwhelmed with joy as we watch these little guys develop and flourish. To think that a 9 month old has true feelings, thoughts, a personality, and a strong will or even major attitude is astonishing, and down-right fun! I too wish they could all stay that age in a sense! But just as the newborn transition happens around 3 months, the “baby to big kid” transition may begin as early as 9 months. Let’s go over some of those transitions together, remembering all the while, that it is the parent and family that makes these decisions on exactly when we transition and how we do it. The pediatrician is there for you for guidance and support, but not to “tell you exactly what to do and exactly when to do it”. Since I have seen over 10,000 kids in these 23 years, I hope to share my experiences and observations regarding these magical, and at times stressful transitions.
Hopefully by 9 months old, you have established a nice bed time routine, and your child is giving you a nice stretch of uninterrupted sleep. I took 3 hours to write my thoughts on sleep, so feel free to peak at that when needed. Now try hard not to go backwards! Sometimes the back molars can interrupt sleep, and now they not only can scream louder, but some pull to a stand in their crib, and even call out for mama or dada, and can wake up the entire neighborhood! But that doesn’t mean they need to feed, or are truly hungry, so try to keep your stretch of sleep without feeding. Every single 9 month old can give you 10-11 hours of sleep (sometimes you’ll get the magical 12) without needing any calories. Indeed some very intense habits can form at this age, so really think about if you want to spend an hour rocking them to bed, or bringing them in your bed, or even going to them. You are not just making the decision for the night – you may be digging a hole for many months if you “reinforce the waking”. There are no “wrong” decisions, but just remember, it only gets harder later to break habits.
Naps are really different for each child, but we often have transitioned from 3 naps to 2 by now, and the next transition from 2 to 1 is most often from 15-18 months, but there is no right or wrong. Your baby should be getting around 12-14 hours of sleep, but there is a lot of flexibility in timing of naps. Most lose their naps by 3 years old, so enjoy them while you can!
From 9-12 months hopefully you are opening up the choices in terms of solids, and your baby is enjoying eating. Before a year we can give breastmilk and/or formula, but it is safe to give yogurt and cheese. As long as the yogurt and cheese is well tolerated, there is no chance your baby will be allergic to milk. We wait until 1 years old to offer straight cow’s milk. It should be full fat as they need the natural fat until 2 years old, at which point you can give 2%, but don’t have to. Some people prefer not to give cow’s milk, but the other sources (almond, coconut, oat, soy etc.) of calcium and vitamin D are not full fat, and I feel very comfortable using cow’s milk, and do prefer organic if possible. You can indeed keep nursing for a long time, and if you want you can continue on from baby formula to toddler’s formula.
The goal is to get around 16-24 ounces of milk past a year. This is a sum of all the types of milk or dairy, so breastmilk counts as well as cheese or yogurt. It isn’t easy to count the exact ounces. Some need to cut their total milk intake – such as a baby who was getting 4 bottles of 8 ounces of formula, or 32 ounces total. And some kids just don’t like the idea of cold milk, and you have to push, or keep trying. I would set 12 ounces as an absolute minimum, and I like even older kids to get adequate sources of calcium and vitamin D.
For a “behavioral acceptance” many mix the new cow’s milk with breastmilk or formula to get them used to it. You can warm it still, but really don’t have to. You can gradually increase the ratio of the cow’s milk over a few weeks, but this is for taste and acceptance, and not necessary if your baby likes the milk from the start. You also will start to transition from the milk being a full meal, to it being part of a meal. It shouldn’t be milk then bed, but more of milk, then the night-time routine, and remember to brush the teeth after!
Bottle to Cup
A little baby simply can’t learn how to use a sippy cup or big kid cup – so a baby bottle is fine.
As they get more and more teeth, the soft nipple bottle can make the front teeth come out, and increase your chances of an overbite, or braces in the future. So as they get towards a year, it is nice to practice using the sippy cups or straws, and start to think about losing the bottle. As kids get older they can indeed develop strong habits and associations, and so I really try to lose the bottle by 13-15 months latest. The longer you wait, the harder it is, so start practicing by a year, and then insist on losing the bottle at some point, even if your child has always associated milk with sleep. Many kids accept the water in a cup, but not the milk, but you still have to play your card at some point, or it will continue past 2 years old and will be even more of a battle then.
Some go “cold turkey” or pretend to misplace the bottle. Some gift it to a new baby they know who needs it. And some do a gradual decrease in frequency. You know your child best, so see what seems to fit best, but do “choose that battle” at some point.
If they absolutely refuse to drink milk in the cup, there will be a temporary decrease in dairy, so increase yogurt and cheese, or make creative smoothies to sneak it in. It isn’t wrong to use another source of milk, such as almond, or oat, or pea milk, but they are lower in fats, so I aim to get back to the cow’s milk in due time. I also would aim to lose the pacifier in the similar fashion – as you see fit, but as close to a year as possible. This also can become a very stubborn habit to break, and older kids will be even more resistant to losing it for sleep.
Water is safe to give after 6 months. It has no calories, so you really don’t need to give much, unless there are hard stools/constipation. Even on a hot day, the milk can keep them hydrated and helps them grow more than water. But by 8 or 9 months old the option of having a sippy cup or bottle during a walk in the park is a nice and practical option. It is also nice to practice using a sippy cup, straw, or big kid 360 cup. There is no maximum amount of water past 8 or 9 months old, but make sure they are getting enough of their milk.
This is such a complex topic, and really is 100 percent a decision made by the family, but allow me help if I can. The first step is see if you like the daycare, and their philosophy. There are many excellent ones in the area, but I don’t have a list or preference as it is so dependent on other factors. For sure, a young baby who goes to daycare will see more germs, and yet we hope most of those are self-limiting viruses. All daycares say that a child with a fever must go home, but the day before or the day after, the kids are still contagious, so even if the staff washes their hands, the more kids there are, the more chances of germs. Each germ will boost your child’s immunity, but nobody wants to catch a strong germ like pneumonia or the croup. Most kids who start daycare young make it through the first winter just fine, and then are in a sense stronger, or more equipped for the next winter.
There are indeed benefits or socialization and being with other kids, but I don’t think that becomes a real reason to send a child to daycare until they are 2.5-3. So I appreciate the social benefits of daycare and all group classes, but I would not say you need to send a child to daycare to learn social skills.
Of course any child would love to be with their family, but please don’t feel guilty if you do need to return to work quickly and need to get care for your baby. It’s a very tricky balance indeed. But your baby will feel all your love when you are with them.
Crib to Bed
There is no place safer than their crib, so keep them in there for as long as you can! But please don’t let them climb out either! I have seen kids as young as 17 months climb out of the crib, so of course lower it down as low as it goes once they are pulling to a stand. But if you think that they are lifting that leg over the top, and can fall out from the crib, it is time for the transition to a big boy bed. That leads to a host of other concerns regarding safety, and them coming out of their room, so please safety proof everything as best as you can.
Brushing the Teeth:
I write about oral health separately, but please do remember to take the teeth seriously. I have seen cavities and even the need to remove teeth, so please brush them twice a day every day after the first and last meal, even if your child resists. The dentists want to see you by 12 months, but if you are brushing well and don’t see any yellow spots, perhaps it is ok to wait until 18 or even 24 months, but please know these teeth can get cavities, so do your best job brushing with a real brush and fluoride free baby toothpaste.
I truly love the 9 month old, as they are so full of life and energy! There are learning how to express themselves even if they don’t have any true words. They are feisty and intense! They can indeed start to have mini melt-downs or even give us some good ol’ attitude! Don’t worry, this is all part of good development, but certainly it can make these transitions more difficult.
Choosing your battles:
Remember that you know your child best, and you know how and when it’s bests to choose your battle. There is no absolute wrong or right. Why do we give cow’s milk at a year, but not a week before? Why is it safe to use sun screen at 6 months old (see my blog on “summer safety”) but not at 5 and a half months? When do we go from 2 naps to 1, or lose the pacifier. There is no absolute formula of success, but our advice is indeed based on evidence-based medicine as well as our experience. But as a fellow parent, I know it just ain’t always that easy to make these transitions! So take all my advice with a grain of salt, but do your best to help your baby to transition from a little baby to a healthy beautiful (and no doubt intense) big kid!