How to Wean from Baby Formula
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The first year of your baby’s life is jam-packed with big steps and transitions! They’ve gone from being a precious, helpless, blob to a babbling, toddling, little person who’s bursting with personality. So, it’s only fitting that they’ll cap their momentous first year with yet another change. At 12 months old, it’s now time to trade in your baby’s formula for big-kid milk. Like all other important first-year transitions, I know that this one can be a little unnerving. So, let me help! For easing your tiny toddler into big-kid category, here’s my guide to weaning from baby formula.
When should I wean my baby from formula to cow’s milk?
Lots of big milestones come along with Baby’s first birthday, and one of those is starting pasteurized whole cow’s milk! Note: If your 1-year-old was born prematurely, your pediatrician will likely advise you to hold off offering cow’s milk until your bub’s adjusted age reaches 12 months. (And there a few other exceptions, which we’ll get into in a minute!)
It’s also important to know that, with your pediatrician’s blessing, most babies are ready for other dairy products, like yogurt and cheese, shortly after they start solids—and then switch from baby formula to whole cow’s milk around 1 year of age. Some doctors have parents start offering a little milk around 11 months old—we’re talking one ounce of whole milk in a cup once a day. This helps you gauge how well your little one likes and tolerates cow’s milk…and it’s good sippy cup practice!
Can I continue feeding my toddler baby formula?
There’s no magical internal switch in your baby’s body that makes them suddenly ready for cow’s milk at 12 months. However, when your little pal turns a year old, chances are they’re eating three meals and two snacks a day—and that’s where over half of their nutrition is coming from. So if you continue feeding your toddler infant formula, it’ll reduce their appetite for all that yummy, good food.
Very rarely, underlying health conditions may make it necessary for your little one to remain on baby formula longer than a year, such as:
Metabolic conditions, such as phenylketonuria (PKU)
Can I use toddler formula instead of cow’s milk?
It’s not recommended. In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other health and nutrition organizations advised against using toddler formulas, which are sometimes called transition formulas, follow-up formulas, weaning formulas, or toddler milk. Not only do toddler formulas often contain added sugars, they’re unnecessary for most kids, costly, and there are no nutritional regulations in place for them. Despite this advice, a 2020 report found that 60% of caregivers falsely believe that toddler formulas offered nutrients that their tykes could not get from other foods. That’s simply not true!
What’s the best milk for a 1-year-old?
At 12 months, children need the high fat content that’s in pasteurized whole cows’ milk. (The fat helps with healthy brain development.) I also would ask that you consider giving organic milk from grass-fed cows for the most nutritious version of this age-old nourishment.
Your toddler should continue sipping whole cow’s milk until they turn 2 years old (unless your pediatrician says otherwise). At that point, switching to a lower fat option is a-okay. If, however, there’s a strong family history of heart disease, your child’s pediatrician may recommend starting with 2% milk.
Can I give my toddler a plant or non-dairy milk?
Once your baby reaches 1, whole, unflavored cow’s milk is generally recommended to be their primary milk…unless your tyke has a confirmed cow’s milk allergy or a milk intolerance—or if your family is following a vegan diet. Even then, only introduce a milk alternative under the supervision of your child’s healthcare provider. It’s okay to offer your little one soy or another plant-based milk, but it’s important to know that plant and non-dairy milks are not nutritionally equivalent to cows’ milk, with most falling short of key nutrients—like calcium and vitamins D and B12—that growing toddlers need.
How much cow’s milk do toddlers need?
From 12 to 24 months, toddlers should drink about 16 to 24 ounces of cow’s milk daily. That shakes out to two to three 8-ounce cups. Once your tot is between 2 and 5 years old, they actually need less milk daily! Aim for 16 to 20 ounces a day, which is between 2 and 2.5 cups a day.
1- to 2-year-olds: 16 to 24 ounces (2 to 3 cups) of milk/day
- 2- to 5-year-olds: 16 to 20 ounces (2 to 2.5 cups) of milk/day
It’s important not to overfeed your toddler cow’s milk. For instance, if a 12- to 24-month-old drinks more than 24 ounces of whole milk a day, it can reduce iron absorption and lead to anemia.
How to Wean a Baby Off Infant Formula
Congrats! Your sweet nugget used to depend entirely on baby formula and/or breastmilk to get all their nutritional needs. But by the time they blow out their first birthday candle, solid foods are doing most of the heavy lifting. That means, starting at 12 months, your child can now treat milk as supplemental…just like you do! To help make that transition, you can go cold turkey…or follow these step-by-step weaning how-tos:
Start with a taste test at 11 months.
If your child’s pediatrician signs off, go ahead and start offering 1 ounce of whole milk in a sippy cup daily during meal or snack time to help your child get used to the taste of cow’s milk. If you missed that 11-month mark, don’t worry! Simply skip ahead to the transition options below.
Serve warm(ish) milk.
I’m guessing you’d have a hard time if someone replaced your cherished cup of hot coffee with an iced latte out of the blue! That’s why it’s a good idea to serve cow’s milk at the same temperature that your tot is used to drinking their baby formula when you introduce it. After pouring milk for your tot, think about leaving their cup on the counter for a bit before handing it over. And if you are considering warming their milk, it’s best to do so on the stove, not in the microwave. Microwaving makes plastic dissolve into the milk—yucky and unhealthy!—and it can create dangerous globs of hot milk.
Slowly replace formula servings with milk.
Give your young toddler about a week or two to make the transition from baby formula to milk. Here’s how:
First, replace one formula feed a day with a 2- to 4-ounce serving of whole milk in a sippy or straw cup.
Over the next 10 days or so, increase the milk servings as you decrease your child’s formula servings, without exceeding 16 to 24 ounces of cow’s milk a day. (That’s two to three 8-ounce cups.)
Stop serving infant formula once your toddler is drinking milk with no issues.
Mix formula and cow’s milk.
This is a good weaning method for children who seem to prefer the taste of baby formula to cow’s milk:
Make 2 ounces of baby formula.
Pour 2 ounces of cow’s milk into a sippy cup.
Mix the prepared formula into the milk. You’ll now have a 4-ounce serving of half prepared formula and half milk for your baby. (Do not mix powdered formula with milk instead of water.)
Over the course of a week to 10 days, add more milk and less formula to the mix, until the cup is filled with just cow’s milk.
How to Wean From the Bottle
Ideally babies should start moving from bottle feeding to cup feeding at around 6 to 9 months old, with a full transition to cups between 12 and 18 months. But the truth is, about 20% of 2-year-olds still use bottles. So, if your babe is still bottle-sipping, know that they’re are not alone! If you’re ready to serve your tot cow’s milk, but are still using bottles, here’s how to help make that dual transition:
Make bottles a little less tasty. Pour 2 ounces of water into 2 ounces of already prepared formula to bottle feed your 12-month-old. After a few days, slowly add more water and less formula until after several days, the entire bottle is water. (While you should never water down infant formula for babies under a year, it’s okay to do after the first birthday!)
Offer sippy cups at mealtime. Give your child a sippy cup of whole milk at meal and snack time instead of the water/formula bottle. It’s easiest to start the bottle-to-cup switcheroo during your toddler’s midday meal.
Use cups for milk and water. Once your baby has embraced having a cup of milk at meals, stop filling the bottle with water. Instead, serve water in the sippy cup as well.
Stop this bottle-feed last. Since the bottle-feed before bedtime is the trickiest to eliminate, it’s usually the last bottle to go. To help, build-in some extra time into your night-night routine for extra snuggles and comfort.
Protect your tot’s teeth. A big no-no is to give babies a milk bottle to keep in the bed all night. Babies who fall asleep – and keep the bottle in the mouth for over 30-60 minutes – are much more prone to serious tooth decay.
Final Thoughts on Weaning From Baby Formula
Big transitions like weaning a baby can bring big worries, so don’t hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician for guidance…especially if your bub is experiencing a stuffy nose or a dramatic change in their poops during formula weaning. Or if you notice a rash or there’s vomiting, which are signs of possible milk allergies.
And if your tot takes a little longer to adjust to the formula-to-milk transition than you expected, take a deep breath, and remember: No two kids are the same! As long as they’re eating well and in good spirits, trust that your sweet pea will get there. Cheers!
You may also be interested in…
- Learn More About Introducing Your Baby to a Cup
- Calcium-Rich Foods for Babies and Toddlers
- Milk for Toddlers: A Guide
- When Can Babies Drink Juice?
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.