If you’re wondering how to wean your toddler, you have a lot of company! It can be a tricky (and emotional) milestone, but there are doable tips to help wean a toddler to whole milk from breastfeeding or formula feeding. Plus, info on best milk, best cups, and how to handle common challenges.
This post is sponsored by Kalona SuperNatural.
How to Wean a Toddler
In parenting, I find that it seems like just when we finally feel like we’ve gotten the hang of something, it’s time to stop doing that thing! And the same often goes for weaning. When a baby turns one and is eating more solids, you may find yourself wondering when is the right time to wean.
As an important note, I’d like to say that weaning is a very personal decision that each family needs to make for themselves. Everyone has an opinion about what’s right—including your pediatrician—but my goal here is simply to share options and information to make your personal decision a little easier…or at least more informed.
Weaning to Cow’s Milk
Usually, when we talk about “weaning”, we’re talking about the process when a mother stops breastfeeding or formula feeding a baby and transitions them to milk. And in most cases, milk means cow’s milk. (Though for some families with intolerances, that could mean a nondairy milk.) After a baby turns one, their digestive system and kidney’s are developed enough to be able to handle the proteins and minerals in cow’s milk, which makes it a good time to start the process.
TIP: Read more about when a baby can stop drinking formula here.
What kind of milk is best for toddlers?
Always choose whole milk for a toddler since they need higher fat content in the food that they eat. I like to use local milk from a trusted company whenever I can. For us, that means Kalona SuperNatural, which is a brand that uses sustainable farming practices and supports family farmers who still do much of their work by hand.
While I don’t always have the ability to buy all organic food, I do prioritize it with dairy and I love that Kalona’s milk is also minimally processed. (There’s even a delicious layer of cream on top to prove it!)
TIP: Read more about the best milk for toddlers here, including the best nondairy alternatives.
What’s the right amount of milk for my toddler?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids have 2-3 servings of dairy a day and don’t exceed 32-36 ounces. Two cups of whole milk a day is enough to meet the Vitamin D recommendations and more than 3 cups of milk may reduce a child’s appetite for other foods—which could limit their ability to ingest a wide range of nutrients.
TIP: In our house, we serve about 4 ounces of milk (or 1/2 cup) at meals and water with snacks.
Why does a baby need to be 1 before they can drink milk?
Babies under 12 months of age have immature digestive systems that aren’t very good at digesting milk proteins. The proteins and minerals in cow’s milk can stress a baby’s kidneys and can cause diarrhea. Thankfully, this improves by the time they are a year old.
How to wean a toddler from formula to whole milk?
Once your baby has turned one, you can start the process of transitioning them from their infant formula to milk. You’ll want to go through the following steps.
- Continue using their bottle and usual routine, but replace 1/4-1/2 of the formula with whole milk.
- Continue using their bottle and usual routine, but replace 1/2-3/4 of the formula with whole milk.
- Continue using their bottle and usual routine, but replace all of the formula with whole milk.
TIP: This gradual process allows the child to adjust to the taste and also gives their body a chance to adjust to the new proteins. You can do this gradually over the course of a few days or a week. Check with your pediatrician for more specifics.
What temperature should the milk be?
You can continue to warm the milk if your child preferred their formula that way, or offer it cold if they don’t seem to mind it either way. Temperature is a personal preference!
How to wean a toddler from breastmilk to whole milk?
In many ways, this is a much less straight forward answer than when you’re dealing with formula and may be faster or slower depending on the child. Around the one year mark, you can start offering a small amount of milk, like 1/2 cup, with meals. That will introduce them to the flavor and give them a chance to try milk along with other food. And the most they drink (and eat), the less they’ll naturally need to nurse to appease their appetite.
They may also still want to breastfeed for emotional comfort, so you may or may not need to be purposeful as you cut out daytime feedings. Typically, it’s easiest to leave the sessions close to sleep (going down for a nap or bedtime) in place and eliminate ones during the time they are awake first. Keep the kids busy, distract them with an activity, and be sure to offer them a regular routine of snacks and meals so they are able to get plenty of nutrition from their food.
In many cases, weaning this way will happen naturally and you may find yourself down to just morning or evening soon after their first birthday. (I experienced that once!) In other cases, you’ll need to make a choice to deliberately reduce breastfeeding sessions. (I also experienced that!) Either way, there’s no perfect end goal and it’s totally find to continue breastfeeding and offering regular milk at meals.
TIP: You may need to consciously offer food first, then breastmilk, if your toddler doesn’t seem very interested in food. They’re likely full from breastmilk and may need that simple adjustment to help reset their expectations.
Sample Breastfeeding Weaning Schedule
Here’s a look at what could be a sample gentle weaning schedule for a breastfeeding toddler of any age older than one. This will help prevent engorgement and allow both mom and toddler plenty of time to adjust to the new routine.
- 7 am breastfeed, 8 am breakfast with milk, 10 am breastfeed (before nap), 12 pm lunch with milk, 2 pm breastfeed (before nap), 4 pm snack, 6 pm dinner with milk, 7 pm breastfeed
- 7 am breastfeed, 8 am breakfast with milk, 10 am snack (before nap), 12 pm lunch with milk, 2 pm breastfeed (before nap), 4 pm snack, 6 pm dinner with milk, 7 pm breastfeed
- 7 am breastfeed, 8 am breakfast with milk, 10 am snack (before nap), 12 pm lunch with milk, 2 pm snack (before nap), 4 pm snack, 6 pm dinner with milk, 7 pm breastfeed
- 7 am breakfast with milk, 9 am snack (before nap), 11:30 am lunch with milk, 2 pm snack (before nap), 4 pm snack, 6 pm dinner with milk, 7 pm breastfeed
- 7 am breakfast with milk, 9 am snack (before nap), 11:30 am lunch with milk, 2 pm snack (before nap), 4 pm snack, 6 pm dinner with milk, 7 pm bedtime
TIP: This transition could happen over the course of a month, 2 months, 6 months, or a year at any age over 12 months. It’s really up to you and your child—there’s no one size fits all here!
When should a baby stop drinking from a bottle?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that we start to wean a baby from a bottle by 18 months of age. That said, it’s not always easy to make that transition and some babies need the emotional support of a bottle a little bit longer. So keep in mind that weaning from a bottle is a process and it may take a little longer. Many families aim to be totally done with bottles by age 2.
TIP: Find more about when a baby should be done with formula here.
Tips for Transitioning from a Bottle to a Sippy Cup
If your one year old is still drinking a their milk from a bottle, start to transition to a sippy cup at meal times. Give them regular opportunities to learn to use a cup and remember that like all skills, it may take time.
TIP: You can try letting the child pick out a new cup to help them get excited about the transition away from the bottle. Make it special and fun and that can help to excite them!
What should I do if my child just wants milk (and not food)?
It can be such a challenge to know how much milk a child truly needs when they keep asking (and sometimes even crying) for it! One of my kids loves her Kalona SuperNatural milk and would probably drink it exclusively for all of her meals if allowed. To help ensure that she gets to enjoy her milk and other foods, I limit the amount of milk to 4 ounces at any given meal. You could choose a different amount, but that structure has worked well for us—she always knows she’ll get to have some milk but I have the structure of knowing how much to give her.
TIP: Remember that milk (or formula) has offered emotional comfort for the entirety of your child’s life and have empathy and patience with their attachment to it.
Does my child really need to drink milk?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids have 2-3 servings of dairy a day, which could include milk—or other foods such as yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, or cheese to get their recommended calcium (and protein). We love mixing in these dairy options, along with milk, but you could choose to do one or the other. (You really don’t need to do toddler formula either.)
TIP: If you don’t do dairy at all, there are many alternatives now available. (Many nondairy substitutes are low in protein and calcium so always read the label to make sure you know what you’re getting.
Best Weaning Tips
- Remember that weaning is a very personal decision that each family needs to make for themselves. There’s no one right way!
- Wait to wean to cow’s milk until a child has turned one.
- Always choose whole milk for a toddler since they need higher fat content in the food that they eat.
- If a child can’t tolerate cow’s milk, learn about the best alternatives here.
- Introduce milk in a sippy cup with meals.
- Plan out a weaning schedule, or go with a more natural approach. (Both are okay!)
- Gradually replace formula with whole milk to allow the child to adjust to the flavor and new proteins.
- As you work on eliminating bottle feeding sessions close to wake ups or bedtime or nap, you can try to substitute other forms of comfort such as a lovie, a blankie, a new ritual (saying goodnight to all of the favorite toys or family members), etc.
- Aim to eliminate the bottle by age two.
Do you have additional questions about how to wean a toddler that I missed here? Please ask them below in the comments!
This post is sponsored by Kalona SuperNatural.