How to Transition Your 1-Year-Old to Whole Milk

For the entire past year, your baby has either been taking in breastmilk, formula or a combination of both as their main source of nutrition. As they approach their first birthday, it’s time to start thinking about how to properly make the transition to whole milk. 

Transitioning from breast milk or formula to whole milk typically occurs around the age of one. Though many breastfeeding moms may choose to continue breastfeeding instead, whole milk also offers the ideal nutritional profile for a baby who is now moving into toddlerhood. 

Though making the switch usually goes smoothly, we have some advice that will make the transition as easy as possible. Read on to find out when to make the switch, how to do it with the least amount of pushback from your little one, how much whole milk your young toddler should be drinking, and how long they need to continue to drink whole milk. 

When is it Time to Transition to Whole Milk

Whole milk is typically recommended to be given to babies starting from their first birthday. Your doctor may give you the go ahead to do it a bit sooner, but otherwise, just go ahead and wait until that 12-month mark. 

If you are breastfeeding your baby or giving them pumped milk, it is perfectly safe and healthy to continue giving your baby breastmilk instead of whole milk. Many moms will go on to give their babies breastmilk until the age of 2. However, I also know many moms who are ready to move on from breastfeeding once their baby is 12 months old, and this is the perfect time to move to whole milk. There is no right or wrong answer in this regard - it’s important to do what is best for you and your lifestyle.

If your baby is formula fed, this is the time when it makes sense to move to whole milk. Though you will see toddler formulas available, unless your doctor recommends this for your baby, whole milk is usually the best way to go. It is much cheaper and it has all of the nutrients your little one needs to continue on the path of healthy development. Formula companies will do their best to market their toddler formulas as being superior, but this isn’t typically true. 

What about a baby who is allergic to dairy?

Some babies are allergic to dairy or have dairy sensitivities. If this is the case, it’s important to work with your child’s pediatrician to determine what is the best alternative to whole cow’s milk so your little one is able to get the nutrition they need. This article from Healthy Children gives some great alternatives that you can bring up when you discuss this at the doctor’s office. 

How to Transition Your 1-Year-Old to Whole Milk

Moving from breastmilk or formula to whole milk doesn’t have to be complicated. By this time your baby has already had an array of flavors and textures introduced to their palate through a variety of solid foods, that introducing something like whole milk won’t be a big shock to their system. But replacing a baby’s favorite comfort food will look a bit different. The trick is to just not make it harder than it has to be by expecting your baby to adjust with a snap of your fingers. 

Instead, set them up for success by following our top five recommendations below.

1.) Don’t Introduce a Cup at the Same Time

You might think that since you’re introducing cow’s milk it’s the perfect time to introduce the sippy cup, too. But, this can actually backfire. In fact, we hope by the time you’re reading this, you’ve already given your baby a chance to start getting used to using a sippy cup with water, formula or breastmilk. As stated in our article, “When Babies Can Drink Water and How to Introduce It,” we shared how it’s ideal to introduce a sippy cup between 6 and 9 months. So, if you haven’t already, now is the time.

We recommend getting that squared away first, and THEN putting the whole milk into the sippy cup after they can use it with ease. If your baby isn’t quite there, that is completely ok. Just have them continue to use their sippy cup with water and you can give your baby their whole milk in a bottle until you know they can comfortably make the switch. 

2.) Warm Up the Whole Milk

If your baby is used to always getting their formula or breastmilk warm, than you’ll want to do the same initially with whole milk. Obviously this practice won’t continue over time, but you don’t want to just abruptly change everything for your baby all at once. Make changes one at a time.

For example, if you’ve been using the Baby’s Brew or another warming method, go ahead and keep doing that with your baby’s cow’s milk. You can then choose to give it to them in a bottle or cup, depending on where you’re at in the bottle to sippy cup transition.

(If you haven't been warming up your baby's breastmilk or formula, there is no need to start doing so.)

3.) Mix it With Your Baby’s Formula or Breastmilk

Gradual changes can often go more smoothly than an abrupt “cold turkey” method. One way to do this is by adding a bit of whole milk to your baby’s formula or breastmilk. Initially, it won’t even be enough where they can taste it. But little by little you can increase the amount of whole milk and decrease the amount of the formula or breastmilk. Eventually, you’ll only be giving your baby whole milk and because they had time to get used to it over time, they likely won’t even notice that you’ve done something different. 

You can also mix the whole milk into some of your baby’s food such as oatmeal or to mash up with avocados and bananas.

4.) Introduce in Small Doses

This article from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia states that it’s perfectly fine to start introducing whole milk to your baby after 11 months in small amounts. Though you don’t want to yet replace any feedings completely with whole milk yet, this is a great month to get your baby used to it so that you’re not just making a hard switch in one day. 1-ounce in a sippy cup while they’re eating solid foods will get them used to both the sippy cup and the texture and flavor of whole milk. 

5.) Wean From the Breast to Whole Milk Gradually

If you are still breastfeeding, but know you will soon be ready to help your baby switch to whole milk, you’ll want to make it a gradual process. The recommendations that we made in “How to Transition from Breastmilk to Formula” will be similar, but if your baby hasn’t ever had a bottle, you’ll want to skip introducing one altogether. Instead, plan on moving between breast and sippy cup as you make the transition. You can utilize step 3 by using pumped breastmilk to get your baby used to the whole milk. 

You’ll also want to reduce feedings gradually in order to allow your body to properly adjust and gradually reduce the amount of breastmilk it’s making over time. 

How Much Whole Milk to Give Your One-Year-Old

For the first several months of your baby’s life, you had to adjust to their ever-growing appetite. They started with needing mere teaspoons of breastmillk, ultimately moving to several ounces a day which they’ve likely stayed steady with for the last several months.

But one major difference between formula/breastmilk and whole milk, is that formula and breastmilk should be the main source of your baby’s nutrition until their first birthday. But as the switch is being made to whole milk, your baby is simultaneously beginning to eat more and more solids that are actually making up the bulk of their calories at mealtime.

This means you’re likely wondering how much whole milk your baby (now young toddler) should be drinking.

  • Hopkins Children’s Hospital recommends giving at least 16 ounces of milk per day, with a maximum of 24 ounces per day. 
  • Keeping whole milk within the 16 - 24 ounce range will give your young toddler enough iron and other nutrients to benefit physical, mental and behavioral growth without giving them too much that takes away from other mealtime nutrients.
  • Be sure ton continue to offer your child three meals and two healthy snacks per day. It is normal for children this age to skip a meal, but be sure to still maintain a meal schedule and pay attention that you’re not giving them more whole milk than what is recommended.

This pattern will continue until your little one has their second birthday.

 Give Whole Milk Until Age 2

Unless you’ve continued to breastfeed or your doctor has recommended a dairy-free alternative, you should be giving your baby whole milk until their second birthday. It gives the proper amount of nutrients, vitamins and fat that your baby needs for optimum development. Once your baby is 24 months old, Healthy Children shares that you can move to giving your baby lowfat or nonfat white milk. 

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