Ask the Mamas: Transitioning to Cow’s Milk

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Mama Say What?! Reader Lillian asks, “I need some advice. My son will be 11 months next week. He is big for his age and always has been a healthy and thriving little guy. At his 9 month appointment, his pedi recommended we drop one of his bottles. We did this without a hitch and he transitioned well. Currently, we’re giving him four 6 oz bottles and three meals each day. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been moving away from purees (we’ve been doing these since he turned 6 months) and feeding him mostly table food for his three meals. The last few nights, he’s drank only a couple ounces of his bedtime bottle. At this point, I’m wondering if I should give him his milk first, then food or if it’s OK to let him drop this feed of milk? That would bring us down to three bottles a day. What’s a “normal” amount of bottles at this point? As he gets closer to turning 1, how much milk should he have?”

Whether to drop a bottle is really dependent on whether he is actually hungry and needs it or does he want the bottle because it’s routine. I don’t think there’s a “normal” number of bottles; it’s going to vary for every child. I’d probably follow his cues to see. Formula is going to have more calories and nutrients per ounce than cow’s milk. I know some companies make a “toddler formula” that you can consider as well. On the flip side, I know many moms skip cow’s milk all together and just continue with solids and occasional nursing or formula, and just offer water during mealtimes. Some opt for a milk alternative like almond or hemp milk.

We started giving our oldest cow’s milk just after his first birthday. He was getting 3 breast milk bottles during the day when I was working, along with purées and table food, but he got most of his nourishment from nursing and bottles. At the 1 year mark, we substituted one bottle with warm cow’s milk so I could start weaning myself from pumping at work. He seemed to love cow’s milk so the transition went smoothly. By the time he was 14 months, he got cow’s milk in all of his bottles and we nursed at night.

Regarding cow’s milk, we were told (at his 18 month WCV) that he shouldn’t drink more than 16 oz in a day because a ton of calcium consumed throughout the day could interfere with his body’s absorption of iron. I know that recommendation varies between pediatricians. By the time he was drinking cow’s milk during the day, we were offering solids first. The before bedtime nursing was the last thing we dropped when he weaned because it was part of his bedtime routine… and I’m all for doing whatever works to get kids to sleep. But if your little one is only drinking a little bit of his bedtime bottle, maybe drop that one and see how it goes. ~Alex T.

Both of my little guys were breastfed until 9-10 months and then formula fed until one year. They both took bottles from the time they were itty-bitty. I think since he’s so close to turning one, it’s okay to let food take the lead more in his diet. My youngest, now 16 months, around a year was drinking a lot more milk (closer to 30+ ounces a day), but I believe with him that it wasn’t that he NEEDED the milk (because he happily chowed down on food too!) but more that he was hooked on the bottle. He started decreasing how much milk he drank when we started replacing bottles with sippy cups. I would take his lead and still offer some milk at bedtime if he wants it, but if he doesn’t, no big deal. Every baby is different. As long as he’s eating, happy and thriving, don’t sweat it! ~Mary Ellen M.

At almost a year, I’m a fan of “food first, milk second.” You can also try putting him to bed with a sippy of water instead, which might quench both his thirst (if he does get thirsty at night) and his need to suck. My own daughter was breastfed, however I nannied a bottle-fed baby for 2 years, and this is what we did at 1 year: Three formula bottles a day, after her main meals. Water (or diluted juice) available any other time. Once she hit 1 year, for a week or so we tried ½ formula ½ milk in her bottles, and then cut straight to milk only. As soon as the milk switch was complete, her mama cut out all bottles and we only offered sippy cups of milk at meals. ~Michelle W.

I think at that age milk is still the main source of nutrition, not food. I think what is recommended varies but my son’s pediatrician has always recommended around 24 ozs. My son has always drank closer to 32 ozs but the doctor hasn’t ever worried too much since his growth is consistent and he doesn’t have weight issues. To me, three 6 oz bottles doesn’t sound like enough. But that’s just based on what my son drank. I think all kids are different and some kids only need 16 oz, while some kids need 24 or 32 ozs. If the child seems happy and is drinking all the milk then it’s probably the right amount. If you are trying to decrease the amount of milk and increase the amount of food, you could try feeding first and giving a smaller bottle (like maybe 4 ozs) after. But I really don’t think 24 ozs is too much for a one year old. I think it sounds about right. ~Amanda P.

The advice given here is solely based on our individual experiences and in no way is it going to be perfect for every mama, every baby, and every situation. None of us are medical doctors. If you have a question regarding a medical topic we can give our opinions, but please consult with your doctor. We are not liable or responsible for the results of following any specific advice in any given situation.

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