When Should I Wean My Baby Off Formula?
Are you currently feeding your baby formula but concerned that it might be past time to start the weaning process?
Would you like to know when it’s time to start moving your little one toward cow’s milk and more solid foods instead of relying totally on formula?
Does the weaning process concern you or does it seem like it’s going to be too difficult to figure it all out?
Weaning can be a challenging time no matter what your baby may be weaning away from, but if you’re feeding your baby formula, it’s important to know when it’s time to stop.
In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the best way to wean baby off formula successfully and with as little fuss as possible. You’ll learn how to tell when your baby is giving you signals that he or she is ready to wean, and you’ll even find out several tips and strategies to help make everything go as smooth as possible for you and your baby both.
Understanding when to start weaning baby off formula can be confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. Remember that eventually, all babies will stop drinking formula and will be weaned onto solid foods and cow’s milk. It’s important for you to get the process started well and on time so that everything goes as it should.
Read on to learn much more!
Formula Weaning as a Milestone
Although “when can I wean my baby off formula?” is probably the question on your mind, it’s important to first learn a little bit about why this is necessary. Weaning your baby off formula is a big step toward ensuring your child grows up healthy and strong. But what makes this such an important milestone for parents and little ones both?
- Babies can become more independent. Weaning baby from formula means your child won’t depend on someone else to prepare his or her daily milk nearly as much. At this point, you’ll still have to pour it (and probably warm it), but your child is still taking a big step toward being able to get his or her own glass of milk someday. And that’s something exciting!
- You may be pairing this transition with a new sippy cup adventure. Many parents and caregivers transition to the sippy cup at the same time as weaning a baby off formula. Starting on a sippy cup is another very exciting and important part of your child’s growth, so if you’re tackling both of these challenges at the same time, your baby will be learning and growing spectacularly in a short amount of time!
- More tastes and foods will be open to your baby. Your child is getting to explore new foods and flavors all the time now, but with cow’s milk open to his or her palate, you can bring a lot more recipes into the mix. Your baby will be starting on his or her own culinary adventure as early as a year old.
- You’ll have more freedom with the grocery list. This one is an important benefit for you and your partner, but without having to budget formula into your shopping list every week or so, you’ll have more room in your budget for other foods. And you’ll also be able to serve your baby more unique meals that the whole family might want to share, too.
Why is Timing So Important?
You’re probably still asking, “But when can I start weaning my baby off formula?” Understanding why weaning is a milestone is important, but figuring out the timing is arguably the most important part of the weaning process. In this section, we’ll give you a few tips to help you better understand when to wean baby from formula and why you should be concerned with choosing the right time to start the process.
- You should always wait until your baby is at least 12 months old to start weaning from formula. There is no reason to start this process any earlier, and every pediatrician, baby book, or any other source of valuable advice will tell you the same thing. It’s unsafe to put babies who are younger than a year old on cow’s milk.
- Cow’s milk is harder to digest. Younger babies can’t process cow’s milk and may have frequent diarrhea or even blood in their stools if they’re given it. This can lead to anemia very quickly.
- Cow’s milk is a common allergen. Many babies are allergic to dairy, but if you wait until after 12 months of age to try it out, your child will be stronger and able to resist potential allergic reactions a little better.
Note: If there is a history of dairy allergy in your family, speak to your pediatrician, as it’s probably better not to give your baby cow’s milk until a much later time.
- Cow’s milk can cause reflux. Lots of babies suffer from reflux and have trouble sleeping because of it. Cow’s milk can potentially aggravate this quite a lot.
- Cow’s milk can damage a young baby’s kidneys. Your baby’s body can’t yet process the nutrients that are present in cow’s milk before the age of one year. When those nutrients build up, the kidneys can suffer severely.
- There are not enough vitamins in cow’s milk for young babies. Younger babies need a lot more vitamins than can be found in cow’s milk, which is why breastmilk and formula are ideal. As your baby ages, his or her nutritional needs will change.
- Children over 12 months of age need more calcium in their diets. As teeth start to come in and bones start growing rapidly, babies need calcium to keep their bodies strong. Cow’s milk is a perfect way to get plenty of this in their diets.
- Vitamin D is important for bone growth in older babies and toddlers. Just like calcium, cow’s milk is fortified with Vitamin D and contains plenty of it for your growing child.
- More mobile babies need the protein in milk. Toddlers who have started walking and running a lot every day need more protein in their diets to keep up with their active lives. Milk has a good amount of protein that can supplement other sources in their diets.
Signs Your Baby is Ready to Wean
“But when should I wean my baby off formula if he or she doesn’t seem ready yet?” you’re probably asking. It can be tough to tell if it’s really time to start weaning your baby, so it’s important to be sure you’re looking out for signs that your baby may be sending your way. Although your baby won’t be able to verbally let you know he or she wants to start drinking cow’s milk instead of formula, there are plenty of ways you can figure this out for yourself. Just remember that every baby is unique and not all will show every one of these signs.
- Your baby is over a year old. If your baby isn’t a year old yet, then it’s not the time to start weaning. We already discussed this in full above, but just as a reminder, please do not consider weaning your baby to cow’s milk if he or she hasn’t reached this milestone yet!
- Your baby is very active. Active babies and toddlers need to start drinking cow’s milk sooner rather than later. This is because the calcium and vitamin D in the milk will keep their bones strong and healthy while they’re running and playing and the protein in the milk will give them plenty of energy to get through their day. If your baby is less active, it still may be time to start weaning, but this may be less apparent to you than it would be with a more active child.
- Your baby doesn’t show signs of separation anxiety. Babies and toddlers who have a lot of separation anxiety may not quite be ready for weaning onto cow’s milk. This may mean a lot more independence than they are used to, which is a good thing. However, to a baby who isn’t accustomed to that level of independence, it can seem very scary, and an exciting milestone may turn into something they don’t want to deal with.
- Your baby is more interested in eating meals with the whole family. As your child gets older, he or she will be interested in watching the rest of the family eat. Your baby might be excited by the smells of the food everyone else is enjoying. The more your child sees other people drinking out of cups and having a meal at the table, the more likely your child will want to copy that behavior and try it out too.
- Your baby is invested in trying new foods. If you have a picky baby who doesn’t like a lot of different flavors or textures, you may have trouble getting your child interested in trying cow’s milk for the first time. However, if it seems like your baby is readily accepting bites of all the new foods you’ve been offering and doesn’t put up much of a fuss about it, then this is a great sign your child is ready to start weaning from formula.
Steps to Wean Your Baby from Formula
Weaning baby off of formula goes a little bit differently for everyone, but there are many steps you can try out that are sure to eventually help the process go smoothly for your child. In this section, we’ll walk you through the steps of making the important transition to cow’s milk from formula. For some babies, you may not need to follow all of these steps, but others may require every step to complete the weaning process. Weaning your baby off formula is sure to be a success when you keep these steps in mind.
1. Start by adding cow’s milk to formula.
This is the best way to be sure your baby gets used to the taste of milk, but it does take a little more time than some other strategies might. Begin with a combination of ¾ formula and ¼ cow’s milk, and increase it a little bit every several days to every week until your baby is drinking only cow’s milk.
2. Sneak extra cow’s milk into food.
You can mix up your baby’s oatmeal with cow’s milk instead of formula and your child is likely to never notice. You can also use it to serve cereal to your baby or even combine it into recipes like mashed potatoes. Your baby will never know the difference!
3. If you’re also moving to a sippy cup at the same time, buy a new cup and make sure your toddler knows it’s special.
Things may get a little more complicated if you’re weaning your baby from a bottle and from formula at the same time, but if you handle it correctly, there shouldn’t be too much trouble to worry about. Just be sure you make a big deal out of your toddler’s special new cup, but don’t mention changing what goes into the cup.
4. Warm up the milk a little bit.
Most babies and toddlers are used to having formula that has been warmed a little, and there’s no reason you can’t do this with cow’s milk too. Just be sure you don’t make it too hot, and take care not to scald it or boil it while you’re warming it up. Your baby is more likely to enjoy a little warm milk than something cold straight out of the refrigerator.
5. Offer milk before a meal.
If your baby is filling up on solid foods and doesn’t seem interested in drinking his or her milk at mealtime, try offering the milk an hour or so before a meal or a snack. This way, your baby will have no other option at the time and will be more inclined to drink the milk successfully.
6. Mix in other calcium-fortified foods like cheese and yogurt if you’re having trouble.
Sometimes, it takes babies a long while to adjust to weaning onto cow’s milk from formula. If it seems like you can’t seem to get past each stage of the process very quickly and you’re worried about your baby’s nutrition, serve cheese or yogurt at snack times to help with the amount of calcium your baby gets each day.
7. When weaning is complete, celebrate!
Your toddler will be excited to be rewarded for his or her good behavior, and a little positive reinforcement goes a long way.
Tips for Formula Weaning
The steps listed above are a great way to get started weaning your baby from formula, but there are a few more tips we’d like to leave you with to make sure the process goes very well for you and your whole family. Check out these suggestions and see which ones may work well for you. They could mean the difference between a challenging weaning process and a simple one!
- Formula weaning is different from breastmilk weaning. Breastfeeding moms can wait longer to transition to cow’s milk, but babies who are drinking formula need to be moved to cow’s milk around the one-year mark, give or take a little while. It’s important to talk to your pediatrician about the nutritional needs of your baby to figure out more specifics.
- Give your baby whole fat dairy until two years of age unless your pediatrician tells you otherwise. Babies who are significantly heavy for their age may need to go on low-fat cow’s milk, but most babies will start with whole fat because it is more nutritious for younger children.
Note: If you have a history of dairy allergy in your family, let your pediatrician know well before weaning begins. This way, you can determine if it’s better to start with soy milk, almond milk, or some other option.
- Give new weaning babies 8 ounces of cow’s milk per day. This is a good amount to get started with while your baby is still also getting some formula for daily milk feeds. If you’re concerned about calcium, you can always try cheese or other sources of dairy in your baby’s diet at this point.
- Give established babies 16 ounces of cow’s milk per day. Once babies have gotten used to drinking cow’s milk, it’s important to give them around 16 ounces per day to ensure that they’re getting everything they need.
- Go as slow as your baby needs you to. This is the most important suggestion for any parents who are going through the weaning process. Be sure you’re doing this on your baby’s time instead of on yours. While it may be tempting to rush your child along so you can fit in weaning before an important event that’s coming up or so you can stop having to buy formula sooner rather than later, rushing your baby will usually not end in a successful weaning experience.
So when do you start weaning baby off formula? As you can probably tell, the answer is a little bit different for everyone. However, if you keep all the suggestions and tips listed in the article above in mind, you should have no trouble figuring out the perfect time to start this process for you and your child.
Every baby is an individual and every baby has specific nutritional needs. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician before you start weaning your child from formula, just to confirm that now is the best time to begin the process. Your pediatrician may also be able to offer some suggestions that may work well for you and your baby.
Once you start weaning, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying a new stage in your child’s life. Remember, however, that during and after weaning, you may notice changes in your baby. These changes could include positive or negative effects on your baby’s mood, positive or negative effects on your baby’s sleeping and eating schedules, and good changes to your household budget when you stop having to buy formula all the time.
There are a lot of benefits for you and your child when it comes to the weaning process. After your baby has weaned away from drinking formula and onto cow’s milk, the only step left is the sippy cup. This is part of the process of your baby gaining more independence and growing up successfully, so be sure you take your time and be patient. You’ll be doing your part to ensure a good experience for your little one.
Learning when to wean baby off formula can be a little difficult, but with these suggestions, you’ll have no trouble making sure it goes well and you have a happy, healthy, perfectly weaned baby in no time.