Drinking and walking are a toddler's recipe for disaster. If she's sipping from a bottle or a sippy cup and learning to walk simultaneously, your little one could end up in the emergency room. According to a recent Pediatrics study, which analyzed emergency department data from 1991 to 2010, 45,398 children under age 3 were treated in emergency departments for injuries related to these seemingly harmless products.
One year olds with to-go bottles accounted for about 66 percent of the injuries -- mostly lacerations, usually around the mouth. The most common cause was falls. "Because they're just learning to walk, toddlers can't multitask," says Jennifer Hoekstra, an injury prevention specialist at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, commenting on the study. Sucking on a bottle or sippy cup takes concentration. So does learning to put one foot in front of the other, getting stabilized, then doing the same for the other foot. "When toddlers trip, they don't have the reaction time to get the bottle out of their mouth before they fall, or to catch themselves," Hoekstra says. But a child doesn't have to have a drink in her mouth to be at risk. Pacifiers were involved in 20 percent of the injuries.
Wean up your act
If you've got a toddler who is just learning to walk, you can reduce her risk of hurting herself by nixing the bottle or sippy cup from her walking routine. "Get into the habit of having your child sit while drinking in her high chair or on the floor," says Hoekstra.
While you're at it, transition your child from the bottle to a sippy cup. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends weaning babies from a bottle before 18 months to avoid tooth decay and the opportunity to drink more milk than they need. Substitute your baby's midday bottle for a sippy cup. In a few weeks, swap a sippy cup for her evening and morning bottles too--all while she's seated, if possible. Eventually replace the sippy cup with an open cup. Gradually pull the plug on the pacifier too. The AAP advises initiating that process around age 1. For starters, "save the pacifier for when your child is in bed, where there's less chance of injury," Hoekstra says.