When Your Baby Should Stop Drinking Formula (And How to Make the Transition)
You've probably conducted extensive research to find and choose the best formula for your baby. But before you know it, your little one is not-so-little, and you may begin to wonder:
How long should my baby drink formula?
How will we make the transition away from formula?
How do I ensure my child still gets all the nutrients he or she needs when I stop using formula?
These are important questions, and we created this guide to help you determine how and when your baby should stop drinking formula.
The Meaning of Weaning
Parents often think of "weaning" as when a child stops drinking baby formula or breast milk completely. But weaning actually begins whenever a baby starts consuming anything besides infant formula or breast milk. It ends when foods and drinks replace them completely.
While the weaning process varies from child to child, it’s common to start weaning your baby between four and six months as they start experimenting with solid foods.
At four to six months, babies often need more nutrients than what’s available solely from formula or breast milk. That's why this is a perfect time to begin phase 1 of weaning: the introduction of solid foods. Solids complement formula or breast milk and ensure your baby receives all the nourishment he or she needs.
When to Begin Substituting Formula
At 12 months, a baby is ready to begin phase 2 of the weaning process: the transition off of baby formula or breast milk. While you can begin this phase at one year, that doesn't mean there's any rush. You can implement this phase of the weaning process as gradually as you and your child need — just as long as you begin no earlier than 12 months.
Why does your baby have to be a year old for this phase? Because at 12 months, a child's digestive system has matured enough to handle toddler formula or straight cow's milk. Before this point, breast milk or baby formula (formulated to resemble the composition of breast milk) are easier to digest. In addition, it isn't until about 12 months that a baby has established a diet of solids substantial enough to go without their infant formula.
What to Start Instead: Stage 3 Formula or Cow’s Milk?
Once your child is ready for phase 2 of weaning, you can replace their baby formula with either Stage 3 formula (also referred to as "toddler milk" or "growing up milk") or whole cow's milk.
HiPP and Holle both offer Stage 3 and Stage 4 formulas for the toddler months, which are specifically formulated to meet a growing child's nutritional needs at this age. These toddler milks have more protein, vitamins, and minerals, and may provide an easier transition if your baby has sensitivities or is simply picky about switching to whole milk.
Note: Some Stage 3 formulas are safe for your baby to begin as early as 10 months. Both Stage 3 and Stage 4 formulas will specifically indicate the best age range for use.
If switching to cow's milk instead, it's important to choose a whole fat option. Why whole? A child at this age still needs a high level of fat to nourish their rapid brain development and physical growth. Keep in mind that your child will only need two to three cups of whole milk per day. Then, at two years old, they can switch to a lower-fat milk option if desired.
How to Make the Switch
Some parents do a cold turkey switch from baby formula to toddler formula or cow's milk — and their babies have no problems with that. If you're the parent of an adaptable baby and this works for you, great! Most parents, however, will find that their babies need a bit more coaxing and time to make the switch without any fuss (or at least a bearable level of fuss).
We generally recommend transitioning over a period of a few weeks. This allows your baby’s digestive system to completely adjust to a new formula or whole milk. It's best to introduce the new formula or milk gradually by mixing it with the old formula. You can consider following a transition schedule like this:
- Day 1 & 2: 25% new formula or milk; 75% old formula
- Day 3 & 4: 50% new formula or milk; 50% old formula
- Day 5 & 6: 75% new formula or milk; 25% old formula
- Day 7: 100% new formula or milk
Depending on your child’s unique needs, you may need to adjust this schedule.
Is Your Baby Ready for Transitioning Away from Formula?
If you're feeling unsure about your baby's readiness to switch, check for these signs. In order to be ready to switch from baby formula to toddler formula or cow's milk, your baby needs to:
- Be at least 12 months old (or as young as 10 months for some Stage 3 formulas)
- Be eating a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and proteins each day
- Be eating approximately 1000 calories each day
If you're still unsure, talk with your child's pediatrician to ensure they're getting enough nutrients from their diet to wean off of the current formula.
What About the Bottle?
Something else to keep in mind here is the weaning from bottle to sippy cup process. Bottles can interfere with normal teeth development, so it's advised that a child switches to a sippy cup by 18 months. But you don't have to wait until then. Your baby can begin using a sippy cup soon after they begin eating solids — around 6 months, or once they can sit up on their own.
To wean from bottle to sippy cup, start by putting a bit of water in the sippy cup to avoid a big mess. It will take your child some time and practice to get the hang of it, but eventually, he or she will become a pro. Sippy cups are generally inexpensive, so it may help to try out a few different kinds to give your baby a chance to find one that they like best.
Do you need to wean from the bottle at the same time as weaning from baby formula? You can. But depending on your child and their temperament, this could make the transition more difficult. If your child struggles to switch off of a bottle and infant formula at the same time, slow things down a bit and just make one change at a time. This will smooth out the adjustments for them.
A Smooth Transition
Change can be difficult, and watching your child grow may make you wish you could slow time down. Before you know it, your baby will become a toddler — ready to graduate from baby formula and food to "big kid" milk and food.
Ultimately, the decision of when to stop feeding infant formula is between you and your baby. Just remember to celebrate each transition on this journey with your not-so-little one.