When Do Babies Stop Drinking Formula?

When do babies stop drinking formula? This is a question every parent of a formula-fed baby asks themselves, as there will come a time when your little one is ready to make the big switch to milk. Would you like to know how long babies drink formula and how to transition from formula to milk? We’ve got you covered with all the answers to these common questions and more!

How Long Do Babies Drink Formula?

So, at what age do babies stop drinking formula? The general rule of thumb is to start transitioning from formula to cow’s milk at 1 year, but not anytime sooner. During the first year of life, babies experience rapid growth and development and require nutrient-rich breast milk or formula to supply what’s necessary and essential to support their development. Though nutritious, cow’s milk can’t be digested by babies younger than 1.

How to Transition From Formula to Milk

Switching from formula to milk is fairly straightforward—you simply swap the two! This is because formula and milk are nutritionally similar. Of all the formulas sold in the United States, 8 out of 10 are cow’s milk-based formulas. Manufacturers make formula digestible and adequately nutritious for newborns by treating and fortifying it. And since babies can start drinking milk only when their digestive systems are ready, formula will get them through that first year. By the time your little one is 12 months, they’ll be ready to enjoy nutritious cow’s milk!

To learn more about how your little one will develop through the years, check out our baby growth calculator below!

Introducing Solids: 6 Months

Prior to the transition from formula to milk, you’ll expand your baby’s menu by incorporating a few solid foods into their diet, usually when your little one is about 6 months old. This will help your child (and their digestive system) get used to trying new flavors. Here’s what to do at 6 to 12 months, before you begin switching from formula to milk:

  • Introduce solid foods. At about 6 months, you can start introducing baby-friendly solid foods to your little one. The nutrients in these soft, small foods will balance nicely with those found in formula.

  • Pair solids with formula. From 8 to 12 months, babies need just 22 to 32 ounces of formula each day. The rest of your little one’s diet will consist of solid foods.

As your baby gets used to this new smorgasbord of foods, you can simply swap the formula for milk. It doesn’t have to be a gradual process unless that better fits your little one’s needs.

Making the Transition: 12 Months

At 12 months, your baby is ready to make the full switch to milk. However, as your little one starts drinking milk, you may notice a few changes in feeding behavior. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • A reduced appetite is normal. As your baby develops, their rate of growth starts to slow down, and you may notice a reduced appetite. This is totally normal, and at 1 year, your little one really only needs about 1,000 calories a day to support their development.

  • It’s OK to be picky about food. Maybe your toddler won’t want to eat all the food on their plate, and that’s OK! What’s more important is consuming nutrient-dense milk and letting your baby lead the way by experimenting with other flavors in solid foods.

    • Adding one-half to one cup of whole or 2 percent milk to each meal or snack will do the trick. In total, aim for about three cups of milk each day.

    And it’s really that simple! Your baby may even prefer the taste of cow’s milk to formula. The challenge in getting your toddler to eat is less about how to transition from formula to milk and more about your little one becoming accustomed to and enjoying a varied diet of solid foods. Read more about your baby’s first solid food and how to introduce solids into your little one’s feeding schedule.

Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

There are a few reasons you might choose an alternative to cow’s milk as you start transitioning from formula to milk. Some babies may have lactose intolerance or a milk allergy. Perhaps your little one simply doesn’t like the taste, or maybe your family prefers to avoid animal products. A fortified, unsweetened soy milk is often recommended as a substitute for cow’s milk. There are other plant-based options that may or may not contain the right amount of protein and vitamins to support healthy growth. If you’d like to use an alternative to cow’s milk, consult your healthcare provider to make sure your baby is getting the nutrients they need.

How to Start Weaning Your Baby Off Formula

Luckily, the process of transitioning from formula to milk is fairly simple. However, there are a few tips to make the switch as smooth as possible as you wean your baby off formula. Weaning typically refers to the gradual transitioning from breast feeding to bottle feeding; in this case, it can also refer to preparing your baby to switch from formula to milk. Although you can simply swap formula for milk, here are a few things you can do to get ready for the big change!

  1. Diversify flavors. The first step is to use solid foods to diversify flavors and get your baby used to eating new foods. As mentioned above, this can typically start at about 6 months.

  2. Practice hand coordination. As your baby starts to eat solids, let them use a spoon independently. This will help your little one build coordination and fine motor skills for eating on their own and using a cup when drinking milk.

  3. Transition to a cup. Many parents wonder when a baby should stop using a bottle. You can introduce a cup once your baby has the necessary coordination and hand skills, which could be as early as 6 months. After practicing eating with fingers and a spoon, your baby may be ready to completely self-feed and drink from a cup at around 1 year.

    1. Start gradually by letting your baby hold a cup and get a feel for it. Then put a little formula in it and show them how to tip it back and sip. Use a baby-friendly sippy cup to help avoid spills and dribbles!

    2. Once your baby has the hang of it, change one bottle feeding to a cup each day and work your way up. Eventually, you can swap every bottle for a cup.

    3. Every child is different, and your baby may not want to drink from a cup right away. Be patient, as your little one may need 6 months or more to make the full transition.

Transitioning Gradually From Formula to Milk

Some babies need a little more time to make the switch from formula to milk, and that’s OK! Simply introduce milk little by little. Be patient and know that your toddler is on the right path. In the end, what’s most important is offering your little one food with a variety of nutrients, flavors, and textures throughout the week. No need to worry if you have a picky eater on your hands. Within an entire week—believe it or not—it usually works out, and even the pickiest eaters will most likely get the nutrients they need!

When Do Toddlers Stop Drinking Milk?

Once you’ve made the switch, and your little one is drinking milk every day, the next question on your mind could be: when do toddlers stop drinking milk? This common question has a complex answer. Milk is an important source of fats, protein, calcium, and vitamins A and D, and children of any age as well as adults can continue to drink it for the rest of their lives if they wish. However, lactose intolerance can appear later in life, typically in older children and adults. So, just watch for signs of digestive discomfort and talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect an intolerance or allergy to milk. During the stage when your child is drinking milk, it’s helpful to know how much of it a toddler typically needs:

  • 12-24 Months: Three cups per day.

  • 24+ Months: Two cups per day.

At 24 months, your child is getting important nutrients from other sources, like solids. So, you can lower the amount of milk they consume.

The Bottom Line

So, when do babies stop drinking formula? The answer is surprisingly simple! At about 12 months, your baby’s digestive system is ready to start processing nutrient-rich cow’s milk. And transitioning from formula to milk is even easier—just swap it!

Before you make the transition, you can introduce new flavors via solid foods to your little one at around 6 months. And once your baby develops coordination and hand skills, start the gradual move to a sippy cup. This will all help ease the process of switching from formula to milk.

Read more about baby development milestones as your little one grows from a bottle-loving newborn to a self-feeding toddler!

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.