How To Transition From Formula To Milk

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The transition from formula to cow’s milk can be a daunting one. After all, you’ve spent the first several months of your baby’s life in a round-the-clock bottle or breast routine. 

Whether you are eager for your baby to take the next step into toddlerhood and transition to drinking cow’s milk, or if you’d like them to breastfeed forever, there are a few things you should know about taking this big step. 

When is the Right Time?

Typically, you’ll want to wait until after the big cake smash on baby’s first birthday to start making the move to cow milk. While it may be frustrating to continue to purchase expensive formula or be attached to a pump or baby five times a day, it’s vital that you wait until that magical one year mark.  

Until the age of twelve months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a child’s primary nutrition comes from formula or breastmilk. Yes, even if your baby loves to eat solid foods, in reality, until they are a year old, most of their nutritional value is coming from these liquids. There are several reasons for this recommendation. 

Formula and breastmilk are specifically designed for infants. They have the exact nutrients your baby needs to grow and make those big developmental leaps you see in the first year of life. Cow’s milk lacks some critical nutrients, such as sufficient amounts of Vitamin E and Zinc, that breastmilk and formula do have. 

Another issue is that your baby’s digestive system is still maturing during the first year of life and isn’t quite ready to process everything cow’s milk has to offer. 

Most babies are unable to fully digest the protein in cow’s milk until they are at least twelve months old. Cow’s milk is also rich in sodium, potassium, and chloride. While babies’ bodies can process these electrolytes, they can’t handle the high levels found in cow’s milk at such an early age. Similarly, there is a lot of iron in milk, but babies will not be able to absorb the mineral fully to get its benefits.

Why Cow’s Milk?

Your one-year-old is still growing and learning at a rapid rate, so nutrition continues to be an essential factor for their development. Cow’s milk checks a lot of boxes when it comes to making sure your little one gets everything they need. 


First up is calcium. Calcium strengthens bones and encourages muscle growth. Toddlers are notorious movers and shakers as they explore the world around them. Calcium will help their bones and muscles grow stronger on their adventures. 

Vitamin D

For your baby to absorb calcium efficiently, he also needs an ample supply of Vitamin D. If your kiddo isn’t getting enough Vitamin D. His body won’t be able to get the benefits of calcium in the same way. Luckily, cow’s milk has both of these nutrients, making it a one-stop-shop. 


Pediatricians and nutritionists recommend that you transition your baby from formula to full fat (3.25%) cow’s milk. Fat is essential for healthy neurological development and brain function. Unless you are directed otherwise by your pediatrician, let your baby enjoy all the good fats from whole milk. 


Whether you breastfed or formula-fed your infant, you are aware of the high costs associated with both options. With the transition to cow’s milk, you have a more accessible, cheaper alternative to meet your baby’s nutritional needs.

milk in glass

What to Do

Now that you’re aware of the when and the why of the big transition, it’s time to talk about the how. Like everything else in parenting, there are many right ways to approach the move to cow’s milk with your family. Don’t be worried if everything doesn’t work precisely the way you imagined. You and your baby will find a way that’s right for you! 

Go Cold-Turkey

Some babies will take to milk like a fish to water. The simplest method of transition is to simply stop offering formula or breastmilk to your baby and provide cow’s milk instead. Under the ideal scenario, your baby will celebrate their first birthday and wash down their cake with a cup of cold milk. If this works for you, don’t question it. Celebrate and count your blessings!

Use a Gradual Approach

Because of texture, taste, and temperature differences, some babies balk at their first sip of moo juice. Like introducing new foods, it can take several tries before your baby gets used to the taste of something new. 

A good approach is to begin mixing some milk into their formula or breastmilk. You can start slowly reducing the amount of formula or expressed milk in their bottle, and then gradually change the ratio as they get used to the new taste. 

If you are making powdered formula, do not mix the powder with milk instead of water. If your baby is used to getting 8 ounces of formula, make 6 ounces and add 2 ounces of milk to make up the difference.

Add Milk in Other Places

Just like some kids don’t like broccoli, others never really enjoy the taste of milk. If your baby is one of these, don’t fret. There are other ways to get milk into their diet other than just drinking it. 

Offer dairy-rich foods such as yogurt and cheese on a regular basis. Make cream sauces to go with their meat or potatoes. Whip up a milk-rich smoothie for an afternoon snack. 

Plan B: Calcium-Rich Foods

Milk and other dairy products are not the only sources of calcium for growing littles. 

Leafy green vegetables are also great sources of calcium, including broccoli and kale. You might be surprised to learn that lentils and white beans also have decent amounts of the good stuff, as do many fruits, including oranges. 

If your baby isn’t going to get their calcium from milk, remember to seek other sources of vitamin D and help with absorption.

kid drinking glass of milk

Questions and Concerns

Of course, you are bound to have questions and worries about making this big move. 

How Much?

In general, your child’s overall liquid nutrients will go down once they transition to solid foods and cow’s milk. There are several different recommendations for the total amount of milk your baby should drink a day. 

A good rule of thumb is for your child to have at least 8 ounces of milk per day and no more than 24. Too much milk can interfere with your baby’s iron absorption, as well as fill them up, so they don’t want to eat solid foods. 

Milk Allergies

As with introducing any new foods, you should always be alert for signs of an allergic reaction. Allergies can present in many different ways and can develop over time. 

If your baby experiences breathing trouble, vomiting, or hives minutes to hours after having milk, contact your doctor immediately. 

You can also keep an eye out for increased congestion or tummy troubles, as these can be indicators of allergic reactions as well. 

Bottles or Cups? 

Whether your baby has been bottle-fed or breastfed, moving to cow’s milk is an ideal time to help them make another transition: cups. 

Moving away from bottles promotes dental health by reducing the likelihood of milk bottle cavities. Sippy cups, straw cups, and regular cups require more work for your baby than bottles do. The cups will use new muscles and encourage healthy cheek, bone, and jaw development. 

Do I Have To?

Maybe you and your baby aren’t ready to give up breastfeeding, or there is a concern with your child’s weight. If you’re hesitant to move to cow’s milk, talk to your pediatrician about an alternative timeline. There is no hard and fast rule about when you should make this move. 

It Will All Work Out

Transitioning your baby from formula to cow’s milk is another significant milestone in parenthood. It signals the end of the baby nutrition era and places you firmly in the realm of toddlerhood. 

The most important thing to remember when making this jump is that there is no one size fits all method. Do what works best for your family, and enjoy the journey.

Emily is a former language arts teacher, turned professional stylist and freelance writer. She and her husband are high school sweethearts, raising their three boys in the same neighborhood where they grew up. In her free time, Emily enjoys running, baking, and singing along to Broadway soundtracks.