Ready to transition your baby from breast milk or formula to regular whole milk? Learn how to introduce cow’s milk to baby using these tried-and-true methods!
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The one-year mark couldn’t come fast enough for me. As much as I cherished my babies’ last few months as, well… babies, I also looked forward to the days they’d each turn one year old. Beyond celebrating a milestone, the one-year mark also meant I could finally give them cow’s milk.
What’s the big deal with cow’s milk?
Pediatricians recommend holding off on cow’s milk until the one-year mark, relying instead on breast milk, formula, and later, solid food. But once babies turn one year old, we can then introduce “regular” milk when we normally would’ve offered breast milk or formula.
My eldest was breastfed exclusively while my twins were given both breast milk and formula. To finally do away with the pump, baby bottles, and cans of formula made me more than eager for them to reach that one-year mark.
How to introduce cow’s milk to baby
Still, how exactly do you introduce milk after all this time? How do you switch from formula to milk, or transition from breast milk to whole milk?
Maybe you’ve tried replacing a bottle with milk, only for your baby to drink a mere one ounce before batting it away and crying for formula. Perhaps your baby took all of 30 minutes to take a few sips, playing with the bottle more than actually drinking from it.
You may have even offered milk in a sippy cup—the same one he drinks water from, so you know he’s not unfamiliar with it—only for him to reject it time and again.
I surveyed several moms who shared their best practices for introducing cow’s milk to their babies. Most had babies already used to bottles, whether because they were formula-fed or were drinking expressed breast milk.
They all agreed that the trick is to introduce cow’s milk gradually. You’ll continue to offer your baby his regular bottles, but you’ll gradually “mix” in regular milk as well. Take a look at these three examples of how you can do just that:
Option 1: Introduce cow’s milk in one week
- Day 1 and 2: For each of your baby’s feeding sessions, offer a bottle that’s 1/4 cow’s milk and 3/4 breast milk or formula. For instance, if he drinks 8-ounce bottles, you’ll pour 2 ounces of cow’s milk and 6 ounces of breast milk or formula into the bottle. You’ll do the same for all his bottles throughout the day.
- Day 3 and 4: Offer bottles that are half cow’s milk and half either breast milk or formula. Using our 8-ounce bottle as an example, each bottle will have 4 ounces of cow’s milk and 4 ounces of either breast milk or formula.
- Day 5 and 6: Offer bottles that are 3/4 cow’s milk and 1/4 breast milk or formula. For instance, an 8-ounce bottle will have 6 ounces of cow’s milk and 2 ounces of breast milk or formula.
- Day 7: Offer full bottles of cow’s milk.
Option 2: Introduce cow’s milk 1 ounce every day
- On the first day, replace 1 ounce of either breast milk or formula with cow’s milk, but only for one bottle/feeding of the day. For instance, let’s say your baby drinks 6-ounce bottles three times a day. Offer your baby formula in the morning and before bed, but for the midday milk, replace one of those ounces with cow’s milk. His afternoon bottle would include 1 ounce of cow’s milk and 5 ounces of formula.
- On the second day, replace 2 ounces with cow’s milk for that same feeding. Continue to give him formula for the morning and night, but now his midday milk will include 2 ounces of cow’s milk and 4 ounces of formula.
- Continue adding more ounces of cow’s milk to that same feeding until he’s drinking a complete bottle of cow’s milk. If he drinks 6 ounces, by the sixth day, he should be drinking a full bottle of cow’s milk for his midday milk.
- Introduce 1 ounce of cow’s milk to another bottle. Now that his midday milk is completely cow’s milk, introduce cow’s milk the same way to the other two feeding sessions. For instance, his morning bottle will now have 1 ounce of cow’s milk and 5 ounces of formula. Continue to add 1 ounce a day until eventually all his bottles are cow’s milk.
- Tip: Start with the feedings where you’re not there. For instance, if a nanny gives your baby one post-nap bottle of milk, start with that bottle first. Then, reserve the bedtime feeding as the last bottle to transition.
Option 3: Introduce 1 ounce of cow’s milk for every bottle every week
- Week 1: Replace 1 ounce of breast milk or formula with cow’s milk for all your baby’s bottles. Let’s say your baby takes 6 ounces of breast milk, three times a day. For one whole week, offer 1 ounce of cow’s milk and 5 ounces of breast milk for each of his bottles.
- Week 2: Replace 2 ounces of breast milk or formula. After your baby has been drinking 1 ounce of cow’s milk with all his bottles for a week, now you’ll introduce 2 ounces. Each bottle should now have 2 ounces of cow’s milk and 4 ounces of breast milk.
- Week 3: Continue gradually introducing another ounce of cow’s milk per week until eventually your baby is drinking a full bottle of it.
Best practices for introducing cow’s milk
- Don’t warm up cow’s milk unless you’re willing to do this moving forward. This will only set expectations, so much so that your baby might reject the milk unless it’s been warmed. Gradually introducing cow’s milk mixed into room-temperature breast milk or formula will also help your baby transition to the new temperature.
- Offer the mixed milk or formula in a baby bottle. If your baby takes to drinking milk from a sippy cup, then continue with that method. But if he rejects even trying or if he plays with the sippy cup, use his regular bottles instead. Once he’s adjusted to the new milk, then introduce it in a sippy cup.
I followed the steps in Option 2, starting with the midday bottle of formula that our nanny offered the babies. Later, I offered an ounce of cow’s milk and expressed breast milk in the mornings in lieu of nursing. And once that was done, I did the same for the nighttime feeding.
One thing is for certain: there is no “right” or “wrong” schedule to introduce cow’s milk. Each baby is different—one could be drinking cow’s milk after a week, while another needs more time to adjust. Some might even drink a full bottle the first try with no problem. Do what works for you.
But hopefully these three examples can give you an idea of how to introduce cow’s milk to baby in a gradual way. Because if you’re like me, that bittersweet moment of saying goodbye to the pump and the cans of formula sometimes can’t come fast enough.
Playful activities for one-year-olds
Looking for ideas to do with your one-year-old? Join my newsletter and grab my printable calendar of activities for one-year-olds! Check them off as you go along, or use the blank template to add your own ideas. Download it below—at no cost to you:
Get more tips:
- How to Wean a Baby from Breastfeeding
- Want the Best Transition Sippy Cup? Start with These Options
- What to Do when You’re Dealing with 1 Year Old Tantrums Already
- 7 Simple (But Genius!) Ways to Stop Diaper Change Tantrums
- What to Do When Your Baby Wakes Up Crying Hysterically
Tell me in the comments: What are your best tips on how to introduce cow’s milk to baby?
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