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Until one year of age, babies need to get nutrition from breast milk or formula – even after solid foods are introduced.
After your baby’s first birthday, though, you can transition to whole cow’s milk.
Start with Step 1 to make this change as smooth as possible.
Introducing Cow’s Milk
Wait until your baby is one year old. Babies under twelve months old cannot digest cow’s milk properly.
In addition, they require the particular mix of nutrients that breast milk and formula provide; cow’s milk is not an adequate substitute.
Therefore, wait until your child turns one before you introduce cow’s milk.
Check with your pediatrician.
In most cases, you can begin transitioning to cow’s milk at any point after your baby’s first birthday; however, it’s always best to check in with your baby’s doctor.
He or she may have specific guidelines for you.
Choose whole milk.
Milk is an important source of nutrition for young children.
It is rich in vitamin D, calcium, proteins, and fats that are crucial for the growth of your child and the development of his or her bones.
To maximize these benefits, offer your child whole milk, not low-fat or non-fat milk, at least until his or her second birthday.
Aim for two glasses of milk per day.
Once your baby is a year old, he or she should be eating a variety of nutritious solid foods – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins.
As long as this is the case, you don’t need to rely on cow’s milk as the major source of nutrition as you did with breast milk or formula when your baby was younger.
Two glasses of milk a day should be sufficient, especially if your child eats other forms of dairy, such as yogurt and cheese.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t jump from no cow’s milk at all to two full glasses of cow’s milk a day.
Introducing milk gradually is actually better.
Understand that your baby may resist.
Cow’s milk does not taste exactly like breast milk or formula, so your baby may refuse it at first.
If this happens, don’t worry; in time, he or she will learn to accept it.
For strategies, scroll down to Part 2.
Watch for signs of an allergic reaction.
Milk is a fairly common allergen.
As with other foods, you should pay attention when you introduce it and note any adverse reactions.
Babies with milk allergies or lactose intolerance may vomit, have diarrhea, show signs of abdominal pain, or develop a rash.
If you suspect that your baby is not tolerating cow’s milk well, talk to your pediatrician.
Easing the Transition to Cow’s Milk
Reduce your child’s intake of breast milk or formula.
Your baby will be more likely to accept cow’s milk if he or she is not continually fed with breast milk or formula.
There’s no need to make an abrupt change: you can transition gradually, eliminating one feeding at a time and replacing it with cow’s milk.
Limit juice and other beverages.
Encourage your child to drink milk by limiting the amount of juice he or she drinks.
Sugary beverages should be avoided completely at this stage.
Try mixing cow’s milk with breast milk or formula.
If your baby refuses to drink cow’s milk, try mixing it into his or her usual drink.
Then you can slowly adjust the proportions.
For best results, mix when both the breast milk or formula and the cow’s milk are at the same temperature – ideally about 37 °C (99 °F).
You can experiment with the ratios, but, for example, you could try:
Combining ¾ of a cup or bottle of formula or breast milk with ¼ cow’s milk for the first week.
Your child will not notice a huge difference.
Mixing cow’s milk with formula or breast milk in equal proportions for the second week.
Using ¾ cup of milk to ¼ cup of formula or breast milk for the third week.
Offering pure cow’s milk for the fourth week.
Serve cow’s milk in an interesting cup or bottle.
Sometimes serving milk in a brightly colored new cup can appeal to your baby.
And if your baby is still using a bottle, consider transitioning to a cup – he or she may accept cow’s milk more willingly if it’s not served in the vessel associated with breast milk or formula.
Be careful not to fill the cup much, and watch your baby carefully.
You don’t want your child to associate cow’s milk with the frustration of repeatedly spilling it all over the place.
Offer milk at ideal times.
Your baby will accept milk more readily if he or she is rested and happy.
Try offering it when he or she first gets up, and offer it as a snack between meals.
Hungry babies tend to be cranky.
Heat the milk.
If you want to make cow’s milk taste more like formula or breast milk, heat it gently to room temperature (or slightly warmer).
Your baby may accept it this way even if he or she refuses to drink it cold.
Don’t get upset if your baby refuses cow’s milk, and don’t get into a power struggle with your toddler.
Be persistent, but keep a relaxed attitude.
Keep offering milk at different times of day and in different cups or bottles, and wait for your baby to accept it willingly.
Praise your child’s efforts.
If your baby drinks the milk, offer plenty of praise and encouragement.
Add cow’s milk to other foods.
If your baby rejects cow’s milk at first, try mixing it with foods he or she enjoys – mashed potatoes, cereals, and soups, for example.
Supplement with other dairy products.
If your baby is not drinking much whole milk, make sure to offer yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products.