Weaning your baby off of formula

Like any big transition in a little one’s life, for some children, switching from formula to cow’s milk is pretty easy, and happens quickly and without much fuss. For other around-one-year-olds, though, the switch away from the familiar taste of formula can be harder to cope with, and parents may end up having to do a little extra maneuvering before it sticks.

When to wean

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sticking to formula until your little one is at least a year old, but there isn’t a strict timeline for when you need to switch. It’s perfectly safe to wean from formula to cow’s milk right at a year old, but if your family feels more comfortable waiting a little while, it’s not necessary. A year old is also about the time when the AAP and other authorities recommend switching away from the bottle and to a sippy cup or regular cup. For some families, introducing both of these transitions at once can be helpful, since it limits the number of changes that need to be made, and because introducing the new flavor of cow’s milk in the new vessel of a sippy cup can help to emphasize the fact that drinking cow’s milk is a new experience, not a normal experience that suddenly tastes wrong.

For others, though, introducing both at once can feel stressful, like it’s adding too many changes at once. If that’s the case, there’s no pressing reason to switch away from formula right away, just like it’s perfectly safe for breastfeeding moms to continue breastfeeding until both they and their children are ready to stop. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing, and while some children do just fine with abrupt transitions, or even prefer them, others respond better to a more gradual transition from formula to cow’s milk. 

Gradual weaning away from formula

Not only do many children feel better emotionally about a gradual transition between drinking formula to drinking cow’s milk, but some parents report that, after an abrupt change from formula to cow’s milk, their toddlers end up feeling a little constipated. Any major change in diet can take a little while to adjust to, but parents of toddlers who have especially sensitive digestive systems may find it a little easier to go for a more gradual transition.

  • Meal by meal: One-year-olds are generally pretty used to trying new foods out – after all, only a few short months ago, every food was a new food, and they certainly haven’t tried everything there is to try by 12 months old. This means that introducing cow’s milk at one meal at first may not actually seem all that strange, even though cow’s milk is a new flavor and consistency. Once the taste of cow’s milk has been introduced and is familiar, introducing it at other meals, one at a time, may not come as a shock.
  • Bottle by bottle: For one-year-olds who take one sip of cow’s milk and start looking around for a familiar bottle of formula, starting by mixing a little cow’s milk into a bottle of formula, and gradually adding more as time goes on to accustom them to the taste of milk can help avoid a showdown over the great milk-switch of their first year.

The switch from formula to milk can be a bittersweet one – no more having to buy or mix formula, but also the end of an era. It’s one of the few milestones you and Baby have a little control over the timing of, though, and when their first birthday rolls around, if they are feeling sick or stressed, there’s no law that says it’s a transition that has to happen right away. On the other hand, by a year old, your toddler has grown enough that they should be able to process milk like a big kid, so if your family is ready to make the switch, there’s nothing to stop you from diving right in.

  • Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph. “Formula Feeding FAQs: Starting Solids and Milk.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, January 2015. Web.
  • “What is weaning and how do I do it?” National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Web.
  • “Why formula instead of cow’s milk?” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
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