Dr.Mom Tip: Weaning From Formula to Whole Milk

It’s Friday afternoon, encroaching on the evening here, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.

I get this question a lot in clinic: how should I switch my baby from formula to whole milk?

The first birthday for your baby is a monumental milestone indeed. Along with all she has accomplished in the first year, there seems to be so many changes in her diet.

One of the more exciting dietary changes for many parents is being able to say good-bye to formula and hello to whole milk. Granted, some (though not many in my experience) will transition fairly easy from formula to whole milk without having to do a thing, most will take some coaxing (aka gradual weaning).

This makes sense to me considering the taste of formula and whole milk is vastly different. In addition, some parents decide that this is a good time to be done with the bottle too and one day just hand their newly crowned one year old a sippy cup full of whole milk. It comes as no surprise that this scenario may be met with more than just a little opposition.

So…what to do?

Here’s my tip for the easiest transition from formula to whole milk:

At or after her first birthday, start mixing formula with whole milk. For instance if she is taking a 6 ounce bottle of formula, mix 5 ounces of formula with 1 ounce of whole milk. This will be her “milk” for that day. The next day, mix 4 ounces of formula with 2 ounces of milk. Each day continue increasing the amount of whole milk by one ounce and decrease the amount of formula by one ounce. Continue on in this way until she is completely on whole milk. By the sixth day, she is drinking whole milk, without so much as a whimper or sour face.

This worked like a charm for both my children and many babies in my clinic. I would wait to transition her off the bottle for milk time until she is accustomed to whole milk which should now happen fairly quickly. By the way, you can apply this same technique to breastmilk fed babies. However, in breastfed babies, I find the situation is much different and deserves its own post. Many breastfed babies will go straight from breastfeeding to drinking whole milk out of a sippy cup. Of course the process and scenarios differ greatly here. Feel free to let us know about your experiences in the comments.

Okay, now that you know how to get your adorable one year to take whole milk with a smile…how do you get her off that bottle? Don’t worry, you have time and I promise to blog about this topic next week: bottle weaning…when, why, and how.

If your baby was on formula, how did he/she do with the transition to whole milk?If you exclusively breastfed, did your baby have trouble accepting whole milk?

**Disclaimer: This is just one tactic (of a few) to try with your child. As with most parenting issues, knowing your child’s temperament and your parenting style will help you decide which direction to take. For instance, some children may easily go straight to whole milk without needing a gradual wean. Furthermore, some will even go straight to a sippy cup! Find what works for your child, and go with it. Would love to hear what tips you have on this subject. **

13 Responses to Dr.Mom Tip: Weaning From Formula to Whole Milk
  1. Leigh Ann
    August 26, 2011 | 6:45 pm

    My twins were preemies, and weren’t transitioned until 15 months — and even that was on the 3rd try. I mixed 1 part milk to 3 parts formula, they spit up a lot, I backed off. Few weeks later mixed 1 part milk to 7 parts formula, the still spit up, I backed off again. Few weeks later I tried one more time before deciding to have them allergy tested or trying soy, and it worked, but still very gradually.

    My 3rd has never had formula, but she went straight to whole milk once she turned one, no issues whatsoever.

    As for bottles…we basically did the same gradual process with the twins. Gradually reduced the amount until it was only a couple of ounces, then switched to water for a few days, then nothing. It was a few nights of crankies when they saw they weren’t getting the bottle, but we got through it.

    • Melissa
      August 26, 2011 | 6:51 pm

      Did your twins do well on soy? Do they have a milk allergy? I have seen this too and often soy does seem to work better for some babies/toddlers who appear intolerant of milk.

      You bring up a good point about breastfed babies, they often have no trouble transitioning to whole milk. Likely b/c if mom drinks it, they’ve already gotten a “taste” for it through breastmilk :)

      I like your bottle weaning approach!

  2. Cara
    August 27, 2011 | 6:01 am

    Great timing! My daughter turns 1 in a week. She does ok with water in sippy cups, but I’m a little anxious to see if she’ll actually finish a cup of milk (sometimes I think she plays more with the cup than drinks from it).

    • Melissa
      August 27, 2011 | 8:51 am

      Happy Birthday to your daughter! Let me know how it goes for you :)

  3. Gayle Smith, MD (also a DrMom :)
    August 27, 2011 | 11:23 am

    I disagree with putting milk in the bottle. You so clearly articulate the important differences between milk and formula (or breastmilk!) and many parents miss the importance here. Very few 12-18 month olds ever drink 6-8 ounces of milk at one sitting in a cup as they often do when the milk is in a bottle. Do the mixing in a cup and you’ll get the portion size right!

    • Melissa
      August 27, 2011 | 12:18 pm

      I see your concern about portion size, some children with prolonged bottle use end up with way too much milk in one day! And as you know, iron deficiency becomes a concern. However, a one year old still needs about 24 ounces of whole milk per day. Getting them to like the whole milk prior to transitioning to a cup has helped in my experience. Not all children will need this gradual transition with the bottle, but some will most certainly benefit from it.

      I do advise parents against letting a child walk around with a bottle guzzling milk. At this age “milk time” should typically occur at 3 times a day. I feel I can translate this to parents and they get it.

      Which leads me to my next post…when, why, and how to wean that bottle…

      What has been your experience with going straight to the cup with whole milk?

  4. […] promised, I’m back today to talk about bottle weaning. On Friday, I shared one of my tips on how to get your newly minted one year old to happily drink whole milk. […]

  5. Amanda
    September 30, 2011 | 5:26 am

    I have three children. My first two had no problem swiching from formula to milk. My 1st had a milk allergy as an infant and transitioned well from soy to whole milk. And my second was breastfed until she was 6 months. It has been 4 years since I had a baby in the house, and have forgotten some of the techniques used with my first two cildren (my oldest turned 2 two weeks before my second came along) So to get ready for my third childs 1st birthday next Thursday, Oct.6 I have been putting her formula in her sippy cup twice a day. And last night she went to sleep without a bed time bottle. I gave her formula around 6, then she had some dinner around 7:30. By 8 she was ready for her bath and bed. I am hoping we can continue this routine, until she gets no bottles during the day, and can take no formula.

  6. Maria
    April 28, 2012 | 1:24 am

    Great article. My little girl is 15months old and still on formula stage 3. I was told by my doctor to keep her on formula until she is 2 years old, since there isn’t as much vitamins or minerals in the whole milk. But the more people I talk to they find this confusing, and so I have been thinking the same. As you can imagine, it’s getting quite expensive buying the milk, on top of everything else that we have to buy for her now, more fresh foods etc. I am going to try this method to see how she will get on, I have kind of lost faith in her doctor since after she developed a cough he prescribed her a cough medicine, which when I did some research on it (because the leaflet was in Greek, I live in Cyprus) I found out it was an anabolic steroid in liquid form. So now I feel like I can’t trust him.

  7. nikki
    November 3, 2012 | 6:06 pm

    my daughter turned 1 on oct 26th. we moved right when she turned 11 months and since then her schedule was turned upside down and shes become a very picky eater. she loves whole milk but she is still very dependant(even more since the move) on formula. im worried if i stop the formula all together she wont get the nutrition she needs. she also recently started waking up multiple times a night and a bottle is the only thing that gets her back to sleep. im a first time mom and im sooo confused! help

  8. Brittney
    December 21, 2012 | 8:23 pm

    So I am having troubles just switching straight to milk. My daughter drinks it no problem. But I am kind of worried she’s not getting all the nutrience she would in formula. She is almost 16 months but was 4.5 pounds when born an has been slow to grow.
    I give her formula in the morning and night and milk durin the day. I give her all milk in a bottle instead of a sippy. My daughter has very hard poops but is going every day sometimes alot lol. I am worried that if I switch her to milk… It might bung her right up!?!?
    Should I be at that point where I can just switch her straight to milk now?? Should I be offering it in a sippy cup instead? She only drinks maybe 4 or 5 ounces at a time.

  9. […] it in this Pop Sugar post: Introduce milk in “baby sips,” and moms who did this, like blogger Confessions of a Dr. Mom, testify that it works (if only I had read their tips last […]

  10. Jennifer Saranow Schultz (aka Hint Mama)
    January 9, 2014 | 8:27 am

    I wish I had known about transitioning (rather than switching cold turkey) to milk before I made the switch. I referenced your post today in a hint on the trick (basically the method you describe above) I wish I had known about: http://hintmama.com/2014/01/09/todays-hint-how-to-switch-to-milk-from-breast-milk-and-formula/