When Should Babies Transition From Formula Milk?

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Most 12-month-olds are ready to move to whole cow milk, but it should not completely replace formula. So when do babies stop drinking formula?

Many parents consider switching from formula to whole cow milk when their child reaches the age of a year. It’s best to make the shift gradually. It’s also vital to understand how to shift to whole cow milk the right way. During this time, you can assist your baby in various ways.

Read on to learn when most babies will stop drinking formula and what you can do to help them.

When To Stop Formula And Start Milk For Babies?

There are no set rules as to when a formula-fed baby should stop drinking it. Most experts recommend gradual weaning between 12 and 18 months (1). As the weaning begins, infants aged 12 months and older may consume whole cow milk (2).

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a baby older than 12 months may consume whole cow milk as part of a balanced diet consisting of solid foods, such as whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, pulses, dairy, and meat (3).

If your baby had sensitivity, intolerance, or allergy to cow milk-based formula or has other allergies, consult a pediatrician before introducing cow milk.

Should Babies Transition To Whole Milk?

It is a parental choice whether or not to transition to cow milk. You might want to try various other beverages and skip cow milk. But if you choose to move to cow milk, understand that weaning is a gradual process that happens over several weeks   (4). Take the following measures when transitioning a baby older than 12 months to whole milk.

  • Replace one feed of formula in a day with whole cow milk. You may also consider replacing a feed of breast milk if your baby is mostly breastfed.
  • Begin by introducing a cup (8fl.oz.) of whole milk in a feed. Serve whole milk in a sippy cup to reduce the risk of tooth decay associated with prolonged use of milk bottles.
  • If the baby does not like the taste of whole cow milk, mix equal parts of whole milk with breast milk or prepared formula. Gradually replace breast milk or formula with cow milk. Do not directly mix formula powder with whole milk (5).
  • You can serve cow milk along with solids as part of meals. It can help mask the taste of the milk.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), babies from 12 to 24 months should consume two to three cups (16 to 24 ounces) of whole milk every day (6). You can spread the quantity across multiple servings a day.

Do not serve more than three cups of whole cow milk a day. If you have concerns about your baby getting adequate nourishment or want to consider fortified cow milk, talk to your baby’s pediatrician.

Is Whole Milk As Nutritious As The Formula Milk?

Commercial infant formulas are easy to digest. Besides, they are fortified with essential nutrients, such as iron and vitamin C, which cow milk lacks. Therefore, formula milk should be chosen over cow milk when it comes to babies younger than 12 months.

However, formula feeding beyond 12 months may not be necessary. According to the CDC, toddlers older than 12 months do not need infant or toddler formula like a younger baby would need   (4). Instead, you can serve them whole cow milk or fortified cow milk. Babies older than 12 months consume a wide variety of solids to grow, develop, and meet their nutritional needs. Whole cow milk can become an addition to the balanced diet and provide the baby with nourishment.

Note: For toddlers with growth lapse, developmental delays, kidney issues, or iron-deficiency anemia, a pediatrician might recommend using formula instead of whole cow milk.

Which Milk Type Is Suitable For Toddlers?

Whole cow milk is most suitable for toddlers as it contains fat that can aid in their growth and brain development (7). It also has calcium and vitamin D necessary for bone, teeth, and muscle development. It is not advisable to feed low-fat or skimmed milk (no-fat milk) to babies younger than two years.

Parents consider soy milk if the baby is allergic or intolerant to cow milk or dislikes the taste of cow milk. Research shows that individuals with milk allergy may also have an allergy to soy (8). Also, commercial soy milk available in the supermarket may not be appropriate for babies. Speak to a pediatrician for the best type of soy milk for your baby.

Other alternatives that parents may consider are milk made from rice, oats, coconut, or almond. However, plant-based milks (except soy) are usually not recommended for babies below two years of age due to their low fat, protein, and calcium content (9).

If your baby is allergic or intolerant to cow’s milk, speak to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician might suggest alternatives such as hydrolyzed cow milk or soy milk formula fortified with adequate nutrients necessary for the baby’s age.

What Are The Other Drinks That Toddlers Can Drink After Turning One?

Whole milk and plain water are the recommended drinks for toddlers aged one and older (6). You may serve alternatives to cow milk, such as fortified soy milk, after consultation with a pediatrician.

Toddlers should not consume beverages high in sugar, additives, and preservatives. If your toddler is keen to consume fruit juice, feed them no more than four ounces (half a cup) of 100 percent fruit juice, occasionally (10). Never serve soda and energy drinks to toddlers. You can serve homemade fruit smoothies made with whole fruits and yogurt/milk in minimal quantities.

Why Is Cow Milk Not Recommended Before 12 Months?

Unless recommended by a pediatrician, feeding cow milk before 12 months is not advisable because of the following limitations.

  • There are low levels of essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, zinc, and quality fat in cow milk (11). These nutrients are necessary for the baby/ toddler’s healthy growth and development.
  • A high concentration of proteins and minerals in cow milk can strain the young infant’s immature kidneys (3).
  • There is low iron content in cow milk when compared to breast milk and iron-fortified formula. Additionally, the calcium and casein found in whole cow milk inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron in babies younger than 12 months (12) (13).
  • Its protein can irritate the gastrointestinal lining, causing occult blood loss that could lead to iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) (14).

Note: Toddlers can also develop IDA if they consume high amounts of cow milk (more than three cups or 710 milliliters a day) in conjunction with a diet lacking in iron-rich foods (15).

Babies can stop drinking formula and switch to cow’s milk between 12 and 18 months. However, take care that this shift is gradual and takes place over several weeks. Begin by replacing one formula feed a day with a small cup of whole milk. You could also serve milk while they eat solids. Cow’s milk is most suitable for children above 12 months. However, if your baby is allergic to it, you could consider giving them soy milk. But consult your pediatrician first to understand which alternative milk option is most suitable for babies.

Key Pointers

  • Most experts recommend switching the babies from formula milk to whole cow milk between 12 and 18 months.
  • You may give up to three cups of whole cow milk every day, along with solid foods, once your baby reaches one year.
  • After one year, babies may consume whole cow milk as a part of a balanced diet for nourishment.
  • However, you should not give cow milk to babies less than 12 months.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Weaning; Healthlink BC; British Columbia
2. Infant Nutrition and Feeding; USDA
3. Why Formula Instead of Cow’s Milk?; Healthy Children; AAP
4. Weaning; CDC
5. Making the Switch to Cow’s Milk for 1-year-olds; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
6. Recommended Drinks for Young Children Ages 0-5; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Giving Your Toddler the Best Nutrition; American Academy of Family Physicians
8. Allergy and Immunology; The Royal Children’s Hospital
9. Transitioning Your Baby to Cow’s Milk; Unlock Food
10. Where We Stand: Fruit Juice; American Academy of Pediatrics
11. Alexander KC Leung, Whole cow’s milk in infancy; Paediatics Child Health; NCBI
12. Ekhard E Ziegler Consumption of cow’s milk as a cause of iron deficiency in infants and toddlers; NCBI
13. Baby’s first cup; WIC Health
14. Sandra Maria Rodrigues Fernandes, Mauro Batista de Morais, and Olga Maria Silverio Amancio, Intestinal blood loss as an aggravating factor of iron deficiency in infants aged 9 to 12 months fed whole cow’s milk; NCBI
15. Iron Deficiency Anemia; C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different... more

Mary Miller

(MA, IBCLC, RLC, CLC, CPD, MCH)
Mary Miller received her degrees in Interpersonal Communications and Maternal Health and Lactation and founded the Breastfeeding Support Center of WNY in Buffalo, New York. She’s currently a doctoral candidate and is continuing specialized study and fieldwork in the field of human lactation and oral restrictions, including but not limited to tongue-tie, with a focus on public policy. Mary offers... more

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