Most mothers choose to breastfeed their babies at birth. And many moms will continue breastfeeding to age one or beyond. However, there are many reasons why supplementing or making a full switch to formula is necessary before your baby’s first birthday. More than half of moms will do so, which is why we know plenty of parents are wondering the best way to transition from breastmilk to formula.
In this article we’ll cover:
When to Transition to Formula from Breastmilk
How to Introduce Formula to a Breastfed Baby
The Best Formulas for Breastfed Babies
Suggested Tips for a Smooth Transition
Whether you’re ready to start supplementing your baby’s diet with formula or you need to make a complete switch, we’ll cover everything you need to know to make the transition as comfortable as possible for both you and your baby.
When to Transition to Formula from Breastmilk
You can find plenty of material on the internet telling you that you should not give your baby any formula until they are at least 6 months of age and that breastfeeding until their first birthday is ideal.
This is usually advice coming to you from medical experts whose job is to share what is the most healthy from a medical standpoint. And that’s all fine and good in a perfect world or for the mom who breastfeeds without issue.
But breastfeeding is not easy. There are many reasons why mothers may need to supplement with formula or make the switch completely. You should never feel like you need to justify your reasoning since a fed baby is best.
There is no perfect answer to the question, “When should I transition to formula?” You need to supplement with or switch to formula when that is what’s best for you and your baby.
In my son’s case, he gained little weight between his 4 and 6-month appointment and breastfeeding was no longer enough for him. I felt guilt about this, but looking back now, he loved drinking formula and he thrived once he got it.
You may have a medical reason that requires you to stop breastfeeding. Beyond that, choosing when to wean your baby off breastmilk should be a personal decision. You need to do what’s best for yourself and/or your baby – and that’s often different from what the experts suggest or what your well-meaning loved ones are telling you to do.
Do not let anyone, including yourself, make you feel guilty for making the switch to formula.
Once you’ve made the decision here’s how to make the transition.
How to Introduce Formula to a Breastfed Baby
There are 3 main methods for introducing your baby to formula.
Partial weaning is when you plan to continue breastfeeding, but need to supplement with some formula. This could be as little as substituting formula for even one feed of the day.
For this method, we suggest trying a few different formulas with your baby to see which one they take to the most easily. Once you find one they are happy to take you can simply begin substituting a feed with a formula bottle instead of breastmilk. If multiple bottles will be given, it would be best to utilize more of a gradual weaning strategy.
Gradual weaning is a great method to use when you plan to stop breastfeeding in the near future but want to conduct it in a way that gives your baby a little less breastmilk everyday until they’re onto drinking 100% formula. However, you could also use a gradual method to for partial weaning, as well. Dropping one breastfeeding session per day (while replacing it with a formula bottle) is a great way to do this.
Wondering if you can mix breastmilk and formula?
Combining breastmilk and formula in one bottle is a great way to start introducing a baby to formula. Just remember to be mindful to still follow proper mixing instructions to keep the ratio of nutrients and water balanced as noted here.
Switching Cold Turkey
Making a cold turkey switch from breastmilk to formula is not generally suggested. However, there are certain reasons why you might need to stop breastfeeding and/or pumping immediately and start giving your baby formula 100% of the time.
If your baby is already used to drinking breastmilk from a bottle, this transition will probably be easier on them. If your baby has been accustomed to only taking milk from the breast, you may run into your baby refusing the bottle as the experience and nipple are different.If you are in this position, we suggest you read “The Best Bottles for Breastfed Babies” which will help you choose a bottle to make the switch easier on your baby. We also talk about our top suggestion below.
Remember that when you switch to formula you will likely see differences in digestion, including different poops, from your baby as breastmilk and formula are not the same. This is normal and not cause for alarm as long as your baby is comfortable and happy.
Taking Care of Yourself When Weaning
Proper weaning doesn’t just mean focusing on your baby’s needs, but also on yours. Even if your baby is happily taking to formula, you still need to care for your body as you limit breastfeeding. Stopping breastfeeding abruptly can lead to health issues for mothers so you want to make sure you do it in a safe way. Healthline gives great advice to mothers and how to care for themselves when they stop breastfeeding.
Baby Formulas Closest to Breastmilk
Part of making the switch from breastmilk to formula is knowing what formula to choose.
With the number of formulas available, it can be tough to decide what’s best for your previously breastfed baby. We cover all of our favorite formulas in our article, “Best Baby Formulas of 2020,” including 2 that are perfect for the breastmilk-to-formula transition.
Ultimately you want to choose a formula that mimics breastmilk as much as possible in nutrients, flavor, and texture. Our top 2 are great choices:
Enfamil Enspire Infant Formula – Enspire is a non-GMO formula that was created with breastfed babies in mind. It includes MFGM to support cognitive development as well as lactoferrin to support baby’s immune system and intestinal development. Many parents report that their breastfed babies take this formula with ease.
Similac Pro-Advance Non-GMO Infant Formula with Iron - This formula from Similac is their closest option to breastmilk. it contains a unique blend of DHA, lutein, and vitamin E for brain and eye development as well as Human Milk Oligosaccharide which is a prebiotic naturally abundant in breastmilk.
You may have a baby who takes immediately to your number one formula choice, but you may want to have a few options at the ready in case they show a preference or digest one better than another. Your baby may not take to their diet change right away, so plan to give it a week or so with a particular formula. Chances are you’ll never look back.
Other Tips for a Smooth Transition to Formula Feeding
Now that you’ve learned the best way to transition your baby from breastmilk to formula as well as how to choose a good replacement formula, we have a few other suggestions to make the switch go as smoothly as possible.
Nurse When You’re Together, Use Formula Bottles When Apart
Many moms choose this route if they will be partially weaning their babies. Formula bottles can be given when mom is at work or away and she can breastfeed during the times they are together. She may choose to breastfeed overnight or formula can be given in a bottle by her partner. If going the cold turkey route, it would be wise for mom to leave the room and have someone else give the bottle for the first several feedings
Use the Baby's Brew Portable Bottle Warmer
Babies who breastfeed have become used to getting warm milk that is body temperature. This temperature can be difficult to mimic when warming a bottle in a bowl of water or under a tap. (Not to mention those ways of warming milk are annoying). A bottle warmer like The Baby’s Brew is the perfect way to give your baby the same temperature of milk they are used to since you can get milk at 98.6 degrees at the push of a button. As the only battery-powered warmer, it’s completely portable so you can give your baby perfectly warmed milk wherever you go. And the detachable formula dispense is an added bonus!
The Baby's Brew Portable Bottle Warmer
Choose a Bottle that Mimics a Breastfeeding Experience
The options for baby bottles is vast. Baby bottle companies are getting more and more innovative by designing bottles that look and feel very close to real breasts and nipples. We outlined all of our favorite bottles for breastfed babies in this article if you want to dive into a full list. Our favorite comes from Comotomo, which has come to be known as “breastfeeding in a bottle.” Taking the time to choose a bottle that closely mimics the breastfeeding experience will lead to an easier transition between breastfeeding and formula.
Switch When Introducing New Solids
Though you may not have this choice, it may be easier to wait to transition to formula after your baby is 5-6 months old and has already started solid foods. This way, their palate is already open to new flavors and tastes which will make them more likely to take to formula with ease.
Now that you're prepared to make the switch, read "Steps for Feeding Your Baby Infant Formula" for a thorough guide on safe feeding with infant formula.