How to Transition from Formula to Milk: 5 Tips from a Lactation Consultant

How to Transition from Formula to Milk: 5 Tips from a Lactation Consultant

Baby ready for a menu reboot? Here’s all you need to know about how to transition from formula to milk, with practical tips from a lactation consultant.
If baby’s first birthday is on the horizon, along with it comes a whole lot of other firsts.

There may be first steps, first words, and yes, first tastes.

One of the sweet substances that may be making its way onto their new menu is milk.

So how do you make the switch from formula to milk?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered, with top tips from expert lactation consultant, Katie Nicholas.

Strap in, mama, we’re exploring all there is to know about transitioning from formula to milk.

In this article 📝

  • How long do babies drink formula for?
  • How much whole milk should a 12-month-old have?
  • How long should it take to transition from formula to milk?
  • Switching from formula to milk: side effects
  • Can I switch straight from formula to milk?

How long do babies drink formula for?

Babies drink formula for about a year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an exclusively liquid diet (breast milk or formula) for the first six months of your baby’s life.

At six months, you can begin to introduce solid foods, but your baby’s main source of calories and nutrition should continue to be breast milk or formula until about the one-year mark.

So, does that mean you should start giving cow’s milk at six months when you introduce other foods?

Not quite!

It’s only around the 12-month mark when your baby is ready to tackle drinking other kinds of milk.

Before this, cow’s milk is not a good idea.

It can actually lead to your baby becoming undernourished since it would be very easy for them to guzzle milk in place of formula or breast milk and miss out on key nutrients that only breast milk or formula can provide to young babies.

It can also have some negative health effects, such as taxing their tiny kidneys more than they are ready for.

The same applies to dairy substitutes such as almond and oat.

Here’s what the CDC has to say about it.

But here’s an interesting plot twist.

Unless you have dairy allergies in your family, not all dairy is to be avoided until they are one year old.

In fact, you can start introducing foods that contain dairy before this.

Yogurt, for example, may make its way onto the menu before drinking milk does, especially if you’re trying out baby-led weaning.

As they reach their first birthday, the CDC-suggested restrictions on drinking dairy are lifted.

Not only is it no longer a no-go, but it’s also now recommended.

Milk provides many important nutrients for your baby as they naturally slow down on their breast milk or formula intake.

It’s packed with protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D ‒ all of which help your baby grow.

And if you want a milk that’s packed with even more nutrients, there are some great fortified options on the market, like Arla Big Milk, which is specially made for growing toddlers.

When do babies start weaning off formula?

You can start weaning baby off of formula from about 6 months old ‒ bearing in mind it’s a gradual process.

At roughly 12 months old (one year), babies can be completely weaned off of formula and growing-up milks.

But you can supplement formula with BLW foods before then, if baby is ready.

While transitioning from formula to milk cold turkey can cause upset tummies and upset babies, a gradual process, starting from anywhere after 6 months (or whenever baby’s ready to try their firsts foods), is generally considered best.

How much whole milk should a 12-month-old have?

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends 16 ounces a day for 12-24-month-olds.

Try not to give more than 16 ounces a day as it can block iron absorption and make your baby anemic.

They also suggest sticking to whole milk rather than skim until your child is two years old.

If you prefer a dairy alternative, fortified soy milk is the closest in composition to whole milk.

Next step: how do you make the transition from formula to milk ‒ and how long should it take?

How long should it take to transition from formula to milk?

From about 6-12 months old, you can start weaning your baby off the formula and onto milk.

But no two babies are alike.

Some will take to it quickly.

Others will take a little longer to get used to their new diet and may need a little extra coaxing along the way.

It can take weeks or months for your baby to get used to whole milk ‒ the change could upset their tummies if done too fast, or the taste could be different and cause fussiness, and you could end up with an unhappy baby.

Not fun.

So how do you transition from formula to whole milk?

Well, it’s all in the strategy ‒ although every baby is different, here’s our formula to milk transition chart you can try out, based on a baby having 5 feeds per day, switching from formula to milk over 16 days.

formula to milk transition chart

But you can tweak this as you like ‒ you can double it up, so instead of trying out the first feeding schedule between days 1-3, you could try it for 1-6 days.

Or even change it to 1-3 weeks.

Whatever works for you and your family, mama.

How do I wean my baby off formula?

Before we get started, know that this is not a how-to guide that fits all babies.

There are so many reasons things may not go exactly as planned.

With that in mind, let’s dive in.

Here are our top tips, approved by lactation consultant, Katie Nicholas.

1. Warm it up

Some babies aren’t too keen on cold milk and may want their milk warmed up, so it’s similar to the breast milk or formula they’re used to.

Your microwave may not be up to the task, since it can leave patches that are too hot for your baby (and other patches that are too cold).

Instead, put the container you’re using in warm water (doesn’t need to be boiling) for a few minutes (like a bain-marie, if you’re feeling fancy), shake, and then check the temperature.

Make sure it’s a little warm without being hot, then see what your little food critic thinks.

2. Mix it up

For some babies, the taste of this new drink isn’t initially to their liking.

It doesn’t mean they’ll be picky eaters, but if this is the only thing they’ve eaten all their lives, it’s a pretty big change for them!

To help ease them into it, you can start by adding a mixture of breastmilk or formula with the whole milk.

Over time, gradually add more whole milk and less breast milk or formula.

It’s also important to avoid mixing formula powder directly with milk.

First, mix the powdered formula with water as you usually would, and then mix it with milk.

You may also want to try mixing milk in with some cereal or a smoothie to get baby used to the idea.

3. Slow it up

It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

And since it’s a big change for baby, going slow can make it easier for them.

Plus, going gradually can help you pick up any potential allergies and intolerances your baby might have.

If you suspect your child has a milk allergy, get in touch with your doctor so that you can plan how to proceed.

Here are some symptoms of milk allergies to be on the lookout for:

4. Sip it up

By the time they reach the grand old age of one and start experimenting with milk, they may already be acquainted with drinking from a cup.

If they haven’t made the switch yet, as the CDC explains, this is a good time to do so.

And be warned, this can be a bit of a messy learning curve, with liquid spills being part of the process.

That’s why spill-proof (aka sippy) cups are generally preferred at this time ‒ but they can practice holding other kinds of cups too.

You may also have to try a few different sippy cups before you find the right fit.

One method that may make the transition easier is to be your baby’s cheerleader.

Congratulate them whenever they use their cup successfully.

Another trick? If they are very attached to their bottle, hiding it may work.

Out of sight is sometimes out of mind.

5. Drink it up

Think of whole milk as a delicious drink rather than a meal.

While we speak of transitioning from formula to breast milk, they actually have different functions.

Whole milk isn’t meant to replace formula and breastmilk but rather to become one part of your baby’s diet.

The goal is to ultimately move towards them getting the bulk of their daily calories from solid foods.

So if you’re making the transition from formula to milk, it’s worth bearing in mind that it doesn’t act as a ‘meal replacement’ for baby.

Switching from formula to milk: side effects

It’s a big dietary shift for baby when you’re transitioning from formula to milk, so it makes sense it can have some side effects to look out for.

Here are some of the side effects you might notice when switching from formula to milk:

  • Fussiness: This can either be caused by discomfort or just by disliking the change.
  • Gassiness: Yup, you might notice some more toots (even different smells) from your babe.
  • Diarrhea: Just as switching up our diet can affect our (ahem) movements, the same can happen to your little one. But there are some warning signs when it comes to baby diarrhea ‒ if it lasts longer then 24 hours, their lips and mouth are dry, they’re not producing tears when they’re crying, their fontanelle is sunken, they’re lethargic, or they’re not interested in feeding, they could be dehydrated. If you think your baby is dehydrated, speak to your doctor asap.
  • Vomiting: Babies tend to stop spitting up at about 4-6 months, but if you notice them repeatedly vomiting up their milk, it could be a sign of an allergy.
  • Skin rashes: Another potential sign of a milk allergy. If you think your babe has a milk allergy, speak with your doctor ‒ they may suggest a different type of milk.

Can I switch straight from formula to milk?

Yes, you can switch from formula to whole milk cold turkey.

As in, one day baby’s drinking formula, and the next, they’re drinking milk and eating baby-friendly foods.

As long as they’re ready to make the dietary switch (ready for weaning and eating baby foods or BLW foods), you can give switching cold turkey a try.

But this approach doesn’t work for all babies ‒ some prefer a gradual switch, slowly introducing milk and phasing out formula.

Ultimately, you know what works best for your baby, mama.

Finally, if you need support through this process, join us on Peanut.

You can even join Katie’s group, Breastfeeding, Bottle Feeding, Weaning Support for more in-depth advice, direct from the expert.

Plenty of mamas have been through this transition before, so you’re not alone.

Good luck, mama.

You’ve got this.

), which is m

Popular on the blog
Trending in our community