How to Transition From Formula to Milk

Tips for Moving Your Little One to Cow's Milk

Looking back over the past year, your little one has changed so much. She's moving around, meeting developmental milestones and developing quite the personality. Now, she's ready for the switch to milk. Some children make the switch easily, but others need a little coaxing to give up the formula.

When Is Cow's Milk Safe?

boy drinking milk

How Much Milk for a 1-Year-Old

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Experts agree it's best to wait until your child is 1 year old before offering cow's milk. Before age 1, your baby's little system isn't equipped to handle the milk. She still needs the readily available nutrients from formula or breast milk.

Specific issues with cow's milk in younger babies include:

  • Inability to easily digest cow's milk
  • High levels of protein and minerals
  • Insufficient levels of iron, vitamin C and other necessary nutrients potentially leading to iron-deficiency anemia or other issues
  • Irritation in the stomach lining and intestines
  • Potential for allergic reactions

When you switch to cow's milk at 12 months, start with whole milk and stick with it until age 2. Whole milk supplies the higher fat content your child needs at that age. The fat makes it easier to absorb vitamins A and D, which are important nutrients. The protein and mineral concentrations in skim milk are usually too high for kids under 2.

At age 2, you can switch your toddler to low-fat or skim milk, but it's a good idea to check with your pediatrician first. Your doctor can suggest the best option based on your child's specific nutritional needs.

How to Transition Your Child to Cow's Milk

Going from formula to cow's milk is a big change for your baby's taste buds and digestive system. A slow approach can help ease the move. Start by replacing one serving of formula per day with cow's milk. Smaller servings of milk can also help the body digest the cow's milk better. If she normally gets 8 ounces of formula, you might give her two smaller servings of 4 ounces each with some time between the feedings.

You can also offer a cup of whole milk with her solid food. The drink is a fun addition to the meal, and she can get used to the taste without giving up her formula immediately. Once she gets used to the flavor, start cutting back on the servings of formula and increasing the servings of milk each day.

Check with your child's pediatrician before switching to cow's milk if she needs soy or hypoallergenic formula. She may need to avoid cow's milk for a little longer if allergies are an issue.

Watch for signs of milk allergies once you start the switch, even if your little one doesn't drink special formula. If you notice hives, swelling in the lips, blood in her stools, vomiting or other unusual symptoms after you start her on cow's milk, talk to her pediatrician immediately.

Handling the Resistant Toddler

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When Do Babies Stop Formula?

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Your little one is used to drinking formula, so the switch to cow's milk isn't always smooth sailing. Some kids dislike the taste. If your toddler resists, transition her slowly.

Start by adding about 10 percent cow's milk to her normal cup or bottle of formula. Most children don't notice the difference. After a few days, add a little more cow's milk and use a little less formula. Continue shifting the ratios until you completely transition to cow's milk.

If she doesn't like milk, resist the temptation to add sweeteners or mix-ins. She may be more willing to drink the "doctored up" milk, but may become so accustomed to it that she refuses to drink plain milk—even as she gets older.

Importance of Nutrition

It's important that your toddler continue to get nutrients from a variety of healthy solid foods for a balanced diet. Milk shouldn't replace calories from meat, cereal, fruits and vegetables. Cow's milk doesn't provide the same amount of iron that formula does. Balance that change by serving plenty of iron-rich foods like beans, meat and iron-fortified cereal.

To ensure she gets the balanced nutrition needed, limit daily milk consumption to a maximum of 24 ounces. Instead of giving her constant access to a sippy cup full of milk, limit milk drinking to snacks and meals. If she drinks milk nonstop throughout the day, she may feel full and eat less at mealtime. The milk can also give her many more calories than she needs in one day.