Switching From Baby Formula to Milk

Close-up of a baby girl feeding milk
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Many parents are often anxious to make the switch from baby formula over to cow's milk for one reason or the other—the cost of formula, to celebrate a new milestone, whatever. However, it is important to wait until your child's 12-month well visit to discuss this change with your pediatrician.

Making the Switch to Milk

The rule of thumb is that you should not consider making the switch from infant formula to whole cow's milk until your baby is 12 months old. While it generally is no concern to wait a little longer to make the switch, do not switch before your baby has hit their first birthday.

Before age 1, babies have greater difficulty digesting cow's milk proteins. While babies 6 to 12 months old can tolerate dairy products like yogurt and cheese, they can have trouble with the large amount of cow's milk proteins found in milk.

Additionally, cow's milk contains high concentrations of certain minerals. Too much of these minerals can stress a baby's kidneys (particularly if they are already taxed by heat stress, fever, or diarrhea). And cow's milk doesn't have enough of some nutrients that babies do need, such as iron and vitamin C, so babies need to get them from breast milk or formula.

Once your child does turn 1, they should drink whole milk (not skim, 1%, or 2% milk) until their second birthday, unless otherwise instructed by their pediatrician. Younger children need higher amounts of fat to promote proper brain development, and the most rapid brain growth happens before kids turn 2.

And unless they are allergic to it, children should drink cow's milk, instead of milk alternatives. These typically have less fat and protein than cow's milk.

Are Toddler Formulas Necessary?

Toddler formulas are not necessary and are not recommended for most children. Toddler formulas haven't shown to have any unique health benefits, though they haven't shown to be harmful either. But cow's milk is much less expensive than toddler formula. It provides the nutrients a growing child needs.

Also remember that after your child's first birthday, milk is a beverage, not a meal. Your child should be getting most of their nutrition from food. They should consume at most 32 to 36 ounces of milk per day.

Breastfeeding and Cow's Milk

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding until at least one year of age and encourages breastfeeding longer, into the toddler years, as it has several nutritional and health benefits. If your baby continues to nurse 3 to 4 times per day, there may be no nutritional need for you to introduce cow's milk. Once again, be sure to talk to your pediatrician about your plans.

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  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Cow's milk alternatives: Parent FAQ. Updated October 13, 2017.

  3. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):e827-e841. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-3552