Transitioning From Formula to Whole Milk

Close shot of baby drinking milk at feeding bottle

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Toddlers who aren't breastfeeding, without food allergies, and who aren't overly picky eaters can begin drinking whole milk once they are 12 months old. Toddler formula is an option if your toddler can't drink whole milk, since it is available in soy and elemental formulations. Since they are iron-fortified, toddler formulas may also be a good choice if your toddler is simply a very picky eater.

Some parents consider soy milk, almond milk, or even goat milk as alternatives for cow's milk. Since these are all low-fat, they may not be good substitutes until your toddler is older. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you not give your toddler low-fat milk until they are 2 years old.

Making the Switch to Whole Milk

There are several ways to accomplish this transition. Many parents take a "cold turkey" approach and simply change all of their child's cups or bottles to whole milk once their baby is 12 months old. This works if you have an easy-going baby that adapts well to change.

With a child who is more resistant to change, a more gradual approach usually works better. For example, you might replace one bottle of formula with a cup of whole milk every few days or weeks. The first bottle in the morning and the last bottle of the day are usually the hardest bottles to give up and the ones you should leave until your baby is drinking milk well throughout the day.

If your baby refuses the milk, you might start mixing formula and milk together. At first, just add a little milk, so that your baby is mostly drinking formula. Every few days, begin to put more and more milk in the bottles so that your child gets used to the taste. Eventually, you can transition to just having milk in the bottles and no formula at all.

If your baby prefers a warm bottle of formula, you might be tempted to warm their whole milk or let it come to room temperature. There is no rule that whole milk has to be served cold, but you might create a habit that will be inconvenient to keep up with.

Bottles or Cups?

When you switch from formula to whole milk, should you also switch to sippy cups? Or, is it better to give milk in a bottle and make the switch to cups later?

Again, it likely depends on your child. If you have a child with an easy-going temperament who adapts well to change, you might try to make both changes at once. If you think that will be too hard for your child, change to milk first and get rid of the bottles later.

When Not to Switch

There are some special circumstances where you can't simply switch to whole milk at your baby's first birthday. The most common are infants who have had a milk protein allergy or soy allergy. While some of these infants may have outgrown their allergy, others must continue to avoid cow's milk or soy as toddlers. Talk to your pediatrician before trying cow's milk.

A Word From Verywell

If you switch your baby to cow's milk and they refuse it, substitute other sources of calcium into their diet. Try not to force them to drink milk. If it turns into a power struggle, they will likely be even more resistant to drinking milk.

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