Switching to Whole Milk

Question of the Week

Close shot of baby drinking milk at feeding bottle
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Question. My 18-month-old daughter is in daycare and her caregiver only gives juice in a sippy cup during the day. I still give her a bottle at night with her formula (soy based). My question is how do I best get her to drink regular milk? I have made numerous attempts by making her a bottle and mixing just a little milk in with her formula, but she just throws it down. Thanks, Jeanna, Georgia


Your question raises a few issues.

Best Milk for Toddlers

Toddlers who aren't breastfeeding, without food allergies, and who aren't overly picky eaters, they can begin drinking whole milk once they are twelve months old. Keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you not give your toddler low-fat milk until they are two years old, unless they are already overweight.

A toddler formula is a good alternative if your toddler isn't able to drink whole milk, since they are available in soy and elemental formulations, such as Enfamil Toddler Transitions Soy and EleCare Jr, etc. Since they are iron fortified, standard toddler formulas may also be a good choice if your toddler is simply a very picky eater.

Although some parents consider soy milk, almond milk, or even goat milk as alternatives for cow's milk, since these are all low fat, they may not be good substitutes until your toddler is older.

Switching to Whole Milk

As far as switching from formula to milk, there are several ways to do it. Many parents just take a 'cold turkey' approach and simply change all of their cups or bottles to whole milk once their infant is twelve months old. This often works if you have an easy going baby that adapts well to change.

Only giving juice in a cup, and not in a bottle, can make this easier to do.

If you have a child who is more stubborn or resistant to change, than a more gradual approach usually works better. Using this method you might just substitute one bottle of formula for whole milk every few days or weeks, choosing a middle of the day bottle which your baby will be the least likely to miss. The first bottle in the morning and the last bottle of the day are usually the hardest bottles to give up and the ones you should leave until she is drinking milk well throughout the day.

If even this method is too drastic, you might start mixing your infant's formula and the milk together. At first, just add a little milk, so that it is mostly formula still. And then every few days begin to put more and more milk in the bottles so that she gets used to the taste, with the eventual goal of just having milk in the bottles and no formula at all.

The fact that whole milk is usually cold might also cause a problem for some children.

While you might be tempted to warm an infant's whole milk or let it come to room temperature, you might end up just creating a habit that will be inconvenient to keep up with. There is no rule that whole milk has to be served cold, though.

Bottles or Cups

Another issue when weaning from formula to milk is what to do with a baby's bottles. Do you also switch to sippy cups when you change over to whole milk at a year or just give the milk in a bottle and make the switch to cups later?

Again, it likely depends on your child. If you have a child with an easy going temperament who adapts well to change, you might try to make both changes at once. If you think that will be too hard on your child, then change to milk first and then get rid of the bottles later.

Special Circumstances

There are some special circumstances where you can't simply switch to whole milk at your baby's first birthday, though. The most common are infants who have had a milk protein allergy or soy allergy. While some of these infants must continue to avoid cow's milk or soy as toddlers, others may have already outgrown their allergy, but you should talk to your pediatrician before trying cow's milk.

And at some point, if you make the switch and she just refuses to drink milk for a while, just substitute other sources of calcium into her diet. Try not to force or push her to drink milk, as if it turns into a power struggle, she will likely refuse even more strongly and be even more resistant to drinking milk.

Also, make sure that your child isn't drinking too much juice. The AAP recommends that you limit younger children to just 4-6 ounces of pasteurized 100% fruit juice each day.


Daniels et al. Lipid Screening and Cardiovascular Health in Childhood. PEDIATRICS Volume 122, Number 1, July 2008

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