How to Switch From Breastmilk to Formula

Your Guide to Introducing Formula to Your Breastfed Baby

Breastfeeding is no easy task, but you're doing it. Now, it's time to introduce formula into your baby's diet. Whether you're switching completely to formula or just supplementing your breast milk, switching gradually makes the transition easier for you and your little one.

Reasons for Switching to Formula

Scoop with powdered milk formula for feeding baby.

How to Change a Baby From Breast Milk to Formula Milk

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Moms introduce formula to their breastfed babies for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are medical. Others involve convenience and working with your new schedule. Common reasons moms switch to formula include:

  • Low milk supply
  • Baby with difficulty nursing efficiently
  • Returning to work
  • Inability or lack of desire to pump enough when you're away from your baby
  • Lack of sleep due to nighttime feedings
  • Self-weaning before the age of 1
  • Desire to stop breastfeeding before age 1

Whatever your reason, you may decide to switch to formula completely or to continue offering breast milk with formula to supplement. It's perfectly fine to feed your baby both. Keeping a few of your breastfeeding sessions gives your baby the immunological and nutritional benefits of breast milk while giving you more freedom to have formula as a backup option.

How to Switch to Formula

Ready to switch to formula? It's not an overnight process; transitioning gradually is best. An extended process is just as much for you as it is for your little one. If you suddenly stop breastfeeding and pumping, your breasts become painfully engorged because they continue making normal amounts of milk. By slowly replacing breastfeeding sessions with formula, your body slows down milk production to prevent engorgement.

Dropping one breastfeeding session at a time helps make the transition slowly. Every few days, drop another session until you've transitioned. It's easy to drop daytime sessions first. Your baby may not want to give up morning and bedtime feedings even if she gets formula as a replacement.

If you miss multiple nursing sessions after returning to work, try pumping a little while you're away. If your goal is to completely wean your baby from breastfeeding, gradually shorten those pumping sessions to decrease milk production.

If your little one already drinks expressed breast milk from bottles, the transition may be a little easier. Exclusively breastfed babies sometimes refuse the unfamiliar bottle at first. Older babies may prefer a sippy cup of formula over a bottle.

Let your partner or another adult offer the bottle if your little one refuses the formula. When you're holding your baby, she may want the breast, but if you're not in the room, she may decide the formula isn't a bad option. Keep trying even if she seems uninterested at first.

How to Use Both Breast Milk and Formula

Scoop with powdered milk formula for feeding baby.

How to Supplement Breastfeeding in Newborns

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Supplementing your breast milk with formula gives you the best of both worlds. Some babies go back and forth between the breast and bottle with no problems. Others need time to adjust. Your baby may start preferring the bottle since she gets her food faster and easier that way.

A common option for using both breast milk and formula is to nurse your baby when you're together and use formula when you're apart. When your child is at daycare, she gets formula in a bottle. When you're home, you can still nurse her. If your baby wakes up frequently at night, try having your partner feed her formula so you can get more sleep.

Tips for Feeding Your Baby

Transitioning to formula is common and perfectly healthy for your baby. If you feel pressured to continue breastfeeding or feel bad for switching to formula, remember that your baby is getting the needed nutrition either way. If supplementing or switching to formula relieves your stress, your baby benefits by having a happier, calmer mom.

Still worried about the transition? Use these tips to make it easier:

  • Enjoy the closeness of breastfeeding if you still nurse at times. You can also bond with your baby when you offer bottles. Snuggle and rock your little one to feel close.
  • Use distractions if your baby goes for the breast, especially if she's acting out of a need for comfort instead of hunger.
  • Add new rituals to your routine if you miss out on the bonding of breastfeeding. Playing and reading together can foster just as much closeness as nursing.
  • Switching to formula when you add solids to your baby's routine can make the transition easier. She's already getting more of her nutrition from the solids than from breast milk. It may be easier to persuade her to drink the formula along with the solids she's eating.
  • Hold off on cow's milk until at least age 1. Your baby's body isn't ready to process it any sooner. Milk also doesn't provide the nutrients that she gets from breast milk or formula.