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Have a cow! Tips for transitioning your toddler to cow’s milk

toddlersippyOne of the topics your pediatrician will most likely bring up during the 12 month old visit is the transition from breast milk or formula to cow’s milk. This topic usually brings up a few questions: How do I go about it? What if my baby does not like cow’s milk? Should I give it to him in a bottle or sippy cup? What if I’d like to continue breastfeeding at the same time?

As with most topics on parenting and child development, there is not one perfect way to make this transition. Babies have different temperaments, and we have our own personal and cultural beliefs*, but I am hoping these suggestions will make it easier for you and your child.

While some babies take to the taste of cow’s milk right away, others do not. If your child belongs to this second group, try mixing breast milk or formula (whichever they had been drinking until now)with cow’s milk first. Start with 75% breast milk or formula and 25% cow’s milk for a few days, then 50-50, and finally 25-75. After a week to 10 days, your baby will hopefully be used to the taste of plain cow’s milk.

If this alone does not seem to work, you can also consider warming up the milk or giving it to your baby at room temperature. Sometimes it is not the taste but the temperature that they don’t like.

Another point to take into account if your baby seems to resist this change is avoiding too many transitions at once. For example, if your baby is very attached to the bottle, introducing a sippy cup and cow’s milk all at once might be too much. Consider introducing cow’s milk first and then, after this transition is successfully made, introducing the sippy cup (even though your baby might like to drink water out of the sippy cup, she might not accept milk out the cup quite yet).

If your child continues to use the bottle past 12 months, my advice is to have a specific schedule during the day in which they drink milk as supposed to having the bottle available all day long, or letting them take it to bed. Both of these situations can be bad for teeth.

One exception to consider is if your baby has exclusively breast fed until now and has not taken bottles. If this is the case, whenever you introduce cow’s milk, you can just go straight to the sippy cup since there is no prior attachment to the bottle.

If you are having difficulty having your baby drink cow’s milk while still nursing, don’t get discouraged. Sometimes your baby won’t accept milk out of any other “source” while breastfeeding is still available, but once your baby is weaned from the breast, she will slowly become more open to drinking milk out of the cup.

As for the “right” timing for weaning from the breast, you should feel free to decide what feels right for you and your baby, and discuss it with your pediatrician.


Cecilia Matson
Galoop – Child Development Classes for Babies and Toddlers and Expert Advice for Caregivers


* For instance, if you’re vegan or Paleo, or if your child is lactose-intolerant, you may be skipping cow’s milk altogether and going for soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, or another milk substitute. Honestly, this isn’t my realm of expertise, but as with all questions about what to feed your child, your pediatrician should be able to offer you some solid advice.

One comment

  1. What great advice. Thank you so much for lending your expertise to the Magic Beans blog. Sheri, two of my kids, and I try to avoid cows milk at this point. I’m not sure how we would have handled this transition back when my kids were transitioning from breast milk to cows milk. I’m wondering how other Paleo parents are handling this.

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