Transitioning to Whole or Other Milks at 12 months

We frequently get asked about how to transition a baby from breast milk or formula onto other milk. Here are our tips and recommendations.

Your baby should receive breast milk or formula until at least 12 months of age. These offer balanced nutrition, including vitamins and minerals, that whole milk and milk alternatives do not. Cow milk may also be more difficult for your baby to digest before 12 months of age.

When doing the transition to milk, you want to choose full fat milk and dairy products, as your baby needs the fat for brain development. You can also select “milk alternatives”, like oat, hemp, pea, almond, cashew, etc. These generally have adequate fat and are fortified with calcium.

The easiest way to transition is to simply offer your baby the new milk in a cup alongside (or at the end of) a meal. This may make it easier to wean the bottle or breast, as the new milk is associated with a cup. Try not to use the “milk” in the bottle to help your baby sleep, as this habit can be hard to break and can increase risk of cavities.

If your baby has more difficulty transitioning off the bottle, you can also consider adding milk to the bottle. Add one ounce of milk and reduce the formula by an ounce, and gradually increase the milk in the bottle from there. You can also take a similar process to wean the bottle, by doing the same with water (add one ounce of water with rest milk and gradually increase). As there is more water in the bottle, often the baby will let go of the bottle. Our goal is to also wean bottles as close to 12 months as possible as well.

Milk will be a small part of your baby’s diet, as we want to focus as much as possible on whole foods. It is not intended to be given in the volumes that you give breast milk or formula. We recommend if your baby is also eating cheese or yogurt to offer a maximum of 8 ounces of whole milk (or alternative), split across 2-3 servings. If your baby does not eat cheese or yogurt, then 12-18 ounces may be offered.

Too much “milk” can contribute to constipation, iron deficiency, and reduced intake of other more nutrient dense foods. For some people, dairy milk can be “addicting” in that some people convert some of the milk proteins into a morphine like product that stimulates the reward centers in the brain.

We recommend getting the cleanest version of dairy possible. Grass fed is the highest quality, generally has less hormones, and is more nutrient dense. Organic is the next best option. We do not recommend raw milk at this age, as there have been cases of bacterial infections and at this age the immune system may still struggle to fight a bacterial infection.