Transitioning from Formula to Milk: How-To Guide

Making the switch from infant formula to cow’s milk is an important transition that all babies go through. According to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants should switch to drinking whole milk instead of infant formula once they reach 12 months old. Some parents may opt to use a toddler formula to complement a balanced diet during the 12-36 month stage as well. 

“Medically speaking, you can transition on one day by stopping formula and giving cow milk out of the fridge the next day or even at the next meal. That said, some babies may prefer a more gradual transition since they taste different and are at different temperatures. With more picky or sensitive toddlers, I suggest to parents that they mix – for a few days to a week – either half and half or a little whole milk in the formula bottle or cup, and then gradually increase the amount of milk and decrease formula. Sometimes it’s just the coldness that toddlers need to get used to, so then I’ll suggest parents slightly warm the milk initially and then over a week keep offering it cooler, until you get to the goal of milk from the fridge,” says Dr. Tanya Altmann, MD, pediatrician.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about transitioning from formula to milk. We’ll also touch on toddler formula, and how to know if it’s right for your bub.

When Is the Right Time to Switch?

Knowing the ideal timing for transitioning to milk or toddler formula ensures your baby's needs are met. But since every child is unique, how do you know the right time for your baby specifically? Use this checklist to determine the ideal timing for transitioning away from infant formula, and as always, consult your pediatrician.

  • Target around 12 months of age, when self-feeding skills typically emerge. This suggests your baby may need less liquid nutrition still coming from formula.
  • Assess developmental signs like sitting independently, interest in feeding themselves, new teeth present, and improved chewing and swallowing abilities. These indicators can mean your baby is ready for the switch.
  • Consult your pediatrician about the right timing based on your individual child’s growth patterns, health status, and progress on developmental milestones. Every baby has a unique timeline.
  • Watch your baby’s cues carefully. While some babies transition instantly to whole milk at 12 months, others do better with a more gradual switch over weeks or months to get used to the taste and texture changes.
  • Stick close to the 12 month mark in general, but don’t push the transition if your baby seems unsure or resistant. Find the right balance between not switching too early but also not waiting too long.

Gradual Transition Methods

Switching from familiar infant formula to new milk or toddler formula can be a big change for some babies. While some may adapt quickly, many toddlers do better with a more gradual approach. Here are some tips for a smooth and healthy transition.

  • Start slow - Begin by mixing a small amount of milk or toddler formula with the usual formula for a week or so. Slowly decrease the formula and increase the new milk over 2-4 weeks.
  • Switch one feeding at a time - Replace just one bottle of formula with a bottle or sippy cup of the new milk. Do this across a few weeks, switching out an additional bottle every 4-7 days.
  • Offer variety - Introduce the new milk at different times of day and with different foods to get your toddler used to the taste. Offering chilled at first can help.
  • Make it fun - Give your toddler their own “big kid” open sippy cup for milk. Let them watch an older sibling drink from a cup too.
  • Stick with what's working - If your toddler is struggling with one feeding, go back to formula for a bit. Build on successes.
  • Expect messes - Spills, drips, and rejects are normal! Stay patient and keep routines consistent.

The key is taking things slowly to allow your toddler time to adjust. Move at their pace, and offer lots of praise for each step forward.

Making the Bottle to Cup Switch

Around 6-9 months, babies can start practicing drinking from an open cup. The transition from bottle to cup can coincide with the switch from formula to milk/toddler formula around 12 months for some babies. For reluctant bottle-give-uppers, focus on the formula transition first.

Toddler Formula vs. Whole Milk - What's the Difference?

While both toddler formula and whole milk provide key nutrition for the 1-3 year old set, there are some differences:


Toddler formulas often contain a balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals tailored to a toddler's nutritional needs. The protein and mineral content is lower than infant formula but higher than whole milk.


Toddler formulas typically contain added iron, vitamins C, E, and D, and omega-3s. Some use cow's milk while others use plant-based or alternative milk sources. Whole milk is just cow's milk with higher fat content.


Toddler formula offers complete, balanced nutrition insurance for picky eaters. It may contain probiotics for digestion. Whole milk provides high levels of fat crucial for brain development.


Toddler formulas are more expensive than whole milk. However, for toddlers who don't eat a wide variety of solids, the formula may be worthwhile.

Ease of Transition 

Toddler formula is familiar, so some toddlers accept it more readily when switching from infant formula. Whole milk has a new taste and texture.

Final Thoughts

Making a smooth switch from formula to milk is an important milestone on your baby's journey to toddlerhood. Remember to move at your child's pace, watch for signs of readiness, and get input from the pediatrician. While toddler formula is an option, for most babies, cow's milk will provide the nutrition they need after their first birthday. With patience and consistency through the transition process, you can ensure your little one continues to get the very best nutrition to support their growth and development. Trust your instincts, believe in your baby's resilience, and lean on your support system. The switch from formula is a chance to reflect on how far you've come already on this remarkable parenting journey.