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How to Transition Baby to Milk

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

As your baby’s first birthday approaches, you probably have “all the feels”. How did this helpless newborn just turn into an active toddler?! Where did the time go?

The amount of change that happens throughout the first year of life is truly mind-blowing. It’s like, just when you think you’ve got this whole parenting thing down, you’re hit with yet another challenge or transition to navigate.

You’ve likely already gone through many milestones that are both cute and challenging throughout your baby’s first year of life. But one big change, that is often not talked about until right before it happens, is the transition from formula or breastmilk to cow’s milk (or a cow’s milk alternative).

Common questions you may ask when transitioning your baby to milk:

In this post we are going to tackle the answers to all these questions and more!

When to Introduce Baby to Milk?

The AAP recommends giving your child cow’s milk around their first birthday. You can introduce dairy products such as yogurt and cheese after 6 months, but most pediatricians hold firm to the recommendation of holding off on actual milk until at least 10 months old. This is because we want to be sure that baby can handle the amount of sugars and proteins in cow’s milk until babies kidneys are more developed.

Also, cow’s milk is not a great source of iron. Formula and breastmilk provide most of your child’s iron until regular table foods take over.

Does a Breastfed Baby need Cow's Milk?

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, you are free to continue to give breastmilk for as long as you desire! Your baby doesn’t necessarily need the addition of cow’s milk to his or her diet, however they DO need the added nutrition of calcium and vitamin D. Dairy is the easiest way to provide that, however there are certainly alternatives as well.

How to Transition to Cow’s Milk?

My #1 tip here is don’t overthink it! You have two options:

1) Offer 50% whole milk mixed with breastmilk or formula for a few days to a week, then switch to 75% whole milk and 25% breastmilk or formula before finally landing at 100% whole milk.

2) Simply go cold turkey!

Over the last year, your little one has been taking in milk protein from your breastmilk or formula already. Additionally, you’ve likely introduced foods that contain dairy/milk products in them (as long as there was no medical reason to avoid dairy), therefore your child has likely been exposed to some cow’s milk already.

You may not know this, but once you start giving your baby some solid food, the weaning process has officially begun. You may notice that your baby will start drinking less formula or breastmilk once solids are established. It is natural for your child to drink less formula or breastmilk as they near a year old.

How Much Cow’s Milk Should Your Child be Drinking?

The AAP recommends that 1-2 year olds drink 16-24oz of milk which is equivalent to 2-3 cups. Remember, once your baby is a year old, any milk they take in is now a “supplement” to their diet, instead of the “main source” of their diet.

It’s important to not go over the 24 oz recommendation in order to hold space for solid food in your child’s diet. Also, you want to avoid them getting too full off of milk as it will hinder their ability to take in enough solid food. It’s all about balance!

Milk Alternatives

It’s important to note that as long as your child is receiving calcium and vitamin D from other sources, whole milk is not required. If your child has a milk protein allergy, is lactose intolerant or simply doesn’t like the taste of whole milk, we encourage you to talk to your pediatrician about what forms of milk alternatives to offer your child. Examples of milk alternatives are: almond milk, soy milk, pea milk, or oat milk.

How to Drop Baby or Toddler from Using Bottles?

Typically, around 7-8 months old we see babies drop down from four formula/breastmilk feedings to three.

The feeding after the second nap can be replaced with a snack and water in a sippy/transitional cup. Classically, this coincides with the 3-2 nap transition. This is an easy way to begin the transition, as well as get them used to drinking from something other than a bottle. It's okay if your child rejects it at first. KEEP PRACTICING! Some of our favorite cups are listed here.

Bottle to Cup Transition

The next bottle to go can be the mid morning bottle. Again, offer a snack and water instead. After that, replace the morning bottle with a hearty breakfast (including dairy), and the shortly after 1 year old, drop the evening bottle. These can all be replaced with your milk of choice in a transitional cup.

Bottle Use with Toddlers

The AAP recommends weaning your child completely off bottles by 18 months of age. There are 2 main reasons for this:

1) Dental Health – serving milk in a bottle leaves your child’s teeth in contact with the sugars in milk, therefore allowing the chance for cavities to form.

2) Oral & Motor Development- Baby bottles can interfere with your child’s development of oral motor skills which are important once your baby starts saying their first words and eating more table foods.

You can avoid this by offering whole milk in a sippy cup or straw cup early on and doing it before 18 months.

It may be easier to offer a new drink in a new cup to avoid having to go through yet another transition at a later date.

That would look like this:

Bottle with breastmilk/formula ---> sippy/straw cup with whole milk

However, you know your baby best! And if you think, they would have a smoother transition taking a more gradual approach, then do what is best for you and your baby!

That could look like the approach below.

Bottle with breastmilk/formula --> bottle with whole milk --> sippy/straw cup with whole milk

If your toddler is using bottles currently, let them help you gather all the bottles together to 'give away'. You can give them to the trash man, for example.

Milk & Bedtime Routines

Prior to 1 year of age, it’s important to keep the milk feeding at the beginning of your bedtime routine. Checkout out our suggestion bedtimes per age here. Once your baby turns a year old, we recommend moving that feeding outside of the bedtime routine, meaning milk would be given with dinner, or shortly thereafter.

Can I Give my Baby other Types of Milk?

Skim milk as well as 1% & 2% cows milk are not recommended in children under age 2 due to their low fat content. If your child can tolerate cows milk, then whole milk is the best recommendation until after 2 years old. If your baby has a milk allergy or intolerance, we recommend speaking to your doctor about which type of milk to offer them.

What about Toddler Formula?

Most experts would agree that toddler formula is simply a marketing tool. It sounds good on paper, but it’s full of added sugars and unhealthy sweeteners. It’s really not necessary, especially if your child has a healthy and well-rounded diet. We are in favor of skipping over toddler formula completely.

Final Tips to Transition Your Baby to Milk!

The bottom line is to transition away from formula around 1 year of age.

  • Don’t make the transition more complicated than it needs to be. Transitions of any form can be difficult on babies and adults. However, with a clear plan, the transition can be pretty seamless!

  • Pick a method and stick with it. Your baby will likely really enjoy their new milk and you’ll likely enjoy watching them experience yet another new milestone!

As always, make sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician regarding personal recommendations about transitioning from breastmilk or formula. This is very important, especially if your child has a milk protein allergy or is lactose intolerant.

Stellina Ferri is the author of this article.

Stellina is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and mom of three.

She supports families through the journey of better sleep as a sleep consultant with Tweet Dreamzz Sleep Consulting. She lives in the Boston, MA area with her family. Find out what solutions she has for you by Booking a free call!

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