It was only yesterday when you were researching the best feeding bottles for your newborn and time has passed so quickly that your little one has now started crawling, sitting, and cruise walking. And, you wonder now how to wean your baby off of breastmilk or formula? When my bub turned one, I had millions of questions, and I bet you do too, like when does she stop drinking breastmilk/formula? How do I transition her from breastmilk/formula to cow’s milk? Will my baby adapt to cow’s milk? Until what age should I breastfeed her?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you should nurse your baby until she is 6 months of age, after which solids can be introduced as a complementary food till she is 1 year old. But, breastmilk/formula remains as the primary source of nutrition till then. After she’s 12 months old where she’s eating 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, she can reduce the amount of breastmilk/formula intake and switch to toddler formula or cow’s milk. You can do this by slowly transitioning your baby to the new milk by mixing the old baby formula/breastmilk and the new milk (Stage 3 formula or cow’s milk), and gradually decreasing the ratio of the old milk till your baby adapts to the new milk. Experts also recommend that if you want to continue nursing your baby, you can still do that even after she has turned 1 year old.
How long do babies need breastmilk/formula?
It is recommended for you to breastfeed your baby for her first 6 months of life. I breastfed my baby till he was 1 year old, after which I slowly switched him to cow’s milk. If you have trouble breastfeeding, then you can provide Stage 1 formula.
Breastfeeding for the first 6 months will help decrease the risk of illnesses like respiratory infections, allergies, and stomach problems. Breastmilk offers complete nutrition needed for your baby’s development.
At what age do babies stop drinking formula/breastmilk?
When she’s 6 months of age, you can start solids as a complementary food (6-9 months) along with breastmilk/formula. By the time she turns 1, she should be having 3 meals with 2 snacks a day. While you can start weaning your baby off of breastmilk/ formula, there’s no rush for you to do so. You can gradually start the weaning process when you and your child are ready but not before she’s 12 months.
Suppose you’re wondering why you can’t give cow’s milk to your baby before she’s 12 months old (even though some friends and families suggest you to start with cow’s milk earlier). It is because her kidneys are not mature enough to process cow’s milk but can easily digest breastmilk/baby formula.
There’s no ‘switch button’ in your baby that will flip to indicate that your baby is now ‘ready’ for cow’s milk, but around the time she’s 12 months old, her digestive system is developed enough to handle cow’s milk. So, you can stop giving formula and transition to cow’s milk when she turns 1 or later. If you’re breastfeeding, you can still continue to do so if you wish, even after she’s 1 year old. The AAP recommends a toddler between the ages of 12-24 months to get 16 to 24 ounces of milk in a day. You can break this ratio by giving 2 or 3 times 8 ounces of milk during mealtimes.
Should I start Stage 3 Formula or Cow’s milk?
You can slowly first start weaning when she’s 6 months old and introduce solids but not before that. The second phase of weaning can start when she’s 1 year old; you can replace the baby formula with Stage 3 formula or whole cow’s milk.
Many brands offer Stage 3 and Stage 4 formula. These are devised to meet the necessary requirements of nutrition like vitamins, minerals, and proteins, for your growing baby’s development.
You should also know that cow milk and formula for toddlers have prominent nutritional differences. While whole milk contains more protein and minerals than formula, toddler formula has vitamin C and iron inculcated in appropriate amounts. But, if your baby is eating healthy food by this age, then their diet can fill any nutritional gaps when transitioning to cow’s milk. Give your baby the appropriate amount of milk for their age as they tend to get full soon and may not get enough nutrients from solids.
While switching to cow’s milk, you should go for the whole fat milk instead of a non-fat or skinny option. Your baby needs a high level of fat to nourish their physical growth and brain development. My little one was picky for a long time when I tried to offer him cow’s milk, so what I did was I started with stage 3 formula for some time, and when he was around 18 months of age, I switched him to cow’s milk.
Is my baby ready to transition to cow’s milk?
If you’re not confident about whether transitioning to cow’s milk will be a wise decision, then check for these signs that indicate that your baby is ready.
- She has better hand-to-mouth coordination,
- She consumes approximately 1000 calories every day,
- She is at least 12 months old, and
- She is eating a healthy balance of vegetables, dairy, fruits proteins and grains every day.
If you check these boxes and still are unsure, you should talk to your pediatrician to ensure that your baby is getting enough nutrients every day to make the transition smoothly to cow’s milk.
How to transition her from breastmilk/ formula to cow’s milk?
You do not have to take away their favorite bottle, the minute the clock strikes 12 and they turn 1. Instead, you can gradually give cow’s milk to your little one over a period of time to let her adjust to the new milk.
If you feel that your baby is not a picky eater and eats anything you give to her (most mums will be jealous of you right now!), then you can go cold turkey and start giving her cow’s milk. But, most parents (and mine too) have babies who will need a lot of persuasion and time to make the transition smooth from breastmilk/baby formula to cow’s milk. In case your baby experience severe stomach ache or constipation, you should consult your pediatrician first before offering her anything else.
I would recommend you to make this change over a few weeks so that your baby’s digestive system adapts to the animal milk. It is best if you introduce new milk by mixing it with the previously given formula/breastmilk.
- Day 1: 75% of breastmilk/baby formula + 25% new milk
- Day 3: 50% of /baby formula + 50% new milk
- Day 5: 25% of breastmilk/baby formula + 75% new milk
- Day 7: 100% of new milk
You can adjust the number of days of a particular ratio as per your child’s needs. Make sure to give 16 to 24 ounces of milk every day at intervals. Weaning your baby off of breastmilk or formula doesn’t mean go for all-or-nothing, you can still choose to offer breastmilk or breastfeed her at night.
When should you not give cow’s milk?
Along with the fact that you shouldn’t offer cow’s milk before she turns 1, there might be exceptions when your baby might not be quite ready for cow’s milk. Your pediatrician might advise you to offer only 2% milk instead of whole milk if your family has a history of heart disease, obesity or blood pressure.
Your doctor might even ask you to continue baby formula/breastmilk if your baby has medical conditions like iron deficiency anemia, kidney development or other developmental delays.
Remember, even if you start offering cow’s milk, you can still nurse your child.
All in all, the advice I would like to give you is all babies are different; there is no perfect time or the ‘ah-ha’ moment for your child to start weaning off breastmilk/formula. Some babies may not be interested in drinking cow’s milk until much later, rather they’d still prefer to consume breastmilk or formula, and that’s completely alright. You can trick them into cow’s milk by experimenting with the ratio I gave above and see what works for you and your kid.
Can I introduce my baby to something other than cow’s milk?
Soy milk has been accepted as a substitute for dairy milk. But, consult your pediatrician first about allergies before giving any milk alternative products. Also, most milk alternative like rice milk and oat milk available in the market contains added sugar and is devoid of the needed nutritional value.
Should I offer cow’s milk in the feeding bottle to help with the transition?
For a little while, you can offer the same bottle she was drinking her milk in, but as time goes, introduce your baby to sippy cups as bottles are not recommended for toddlers as it is bad for their teeth development. It can be messy at first before she slowly learns to drink from the cup.
Can I offer juice after meals when they are 1 year old?
Juice is not recommended for kids, as juice contains added sugar with no nutrition. It is best to give them plain water or milk after meals. Also, water shouldn’t be given in more amounts as they tend to fill up the baby’s tummy, and they won’t get hungry for the next meal.