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Tricks for Moo-ving Your Baby from Infant Formula to Whole Milk

By Sandra Gordon

Tricks for Moo-ving Your Baby to Whole Milk

The infant formula stage doesn't last forever. After your baby's first birthday, as long your now-toddler is getting a balanced diet of solid foods, including cereal, vegetables, fruit and meat, he or she can stop infant formula (or toddler formula) and start drinking whole cow's milk and continue on with breast feeding as well, if she wants to. By then, your child will be ready to digest regular milk and will be consuming other foods by then to round out his diet. Milk may become your toddler's new favorite food. But keep tabs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting milk to one quart/32 ounces per day because more than that can provide too many calories and decrease a growing toddler's appetite for other foods.

The Whole Story

Putting whole cow's milk—rather than low-fat or skim milk—on the menu after that first birthday milestone is important because your toddler's rapidly-developing brain will thrive on the high percentage of butterfat whole milk contains. Just think: A child's brain grows to 80 percent of its adult size by age 3 and much of that development happens by age 2. After your child's second birthday, though, brain growth begins to subside. That's when it's time to shift to foods low in artery-clogging trans and saturated fat, such as low-fat and nonfat milk and yogurt.

One caveat: If your toddler is overweight, at risk for becoming overweight, if you have a family history of obesity, high blood pressure or heart disease, your pediatrician may recommend that your toddler drink 2% milk from age 1 to 2 instead of whole milk. But don't give her 1% or skim milk before age 2. It's not healthy, even for the chubbiest toddlers, because the mix of protein and minerals 1% or non-fat milk provides isn't appropriate for toddlers of this age. Milk with less than 2% fat also doesn't provide enough fat to help toddlers absorb vitamins A and D.

Got Milk?

Some toddlers are easy going and will drink anything that comes their way. Others love their baby formula so much they're reluctant to give whole milk a try. If your toddler won't accept whole milk right away, preferably from a sippy cup rather than a bottle—the cold-turkey approach—try introducing it gradually so she gets used to the taste. Over several weeks and months, add a little whole milk to the formula you prepare and slowly increase the proportion of milk to formula you give your toddler until she's drinking straight whole cow's milk.

If your child hasn't transitioned to a sippy cup by the year mark, you might make the shift to whole milk first, before worrying about weaning him off the bottle. Then start swapping out bottles of milk for sippy cups of milk, with the goal of gradually giving more sippy cups/cups of milk over the next several weeks until the bottle is nixed from the program (hiding them will help your child forget). Swap out the bottle for a sippy cup/cup at mealtimes first, then during other parts of your child's day. If your child flat out refuses to drink milk, don't worry too much about it. Pediatricians recommend avoiding the power struggle and just giving toddlers other calcium-rich foods like cheese and yogurt, while still presenting bottles of milk as an option. While your child is making transition from formula to milk, bottle to sippy cup, offer lots of positive feedback, such as “You're such a big girl, drinking milk from a cup just like Mommy!” and throw in a mini high five. Toddlers of all temperaments drink praise up.

About the Author

Sandra Gordon is a consumer products expert, a writer, and a mother of two. She has appeared on NBC's Today Show and as a baby safety expert on The Discovery Health Channel's “Make Room for Baby.” A Consumer Reports author, her latest book is Save a Bundle: 50+ Ways to Save Big on Baby Gear.

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