By: Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RDAna Reisdorf, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and freelance writer with 13-years of experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. She is the author of three books, including theAnti-Inflammatory Diet One PotCookbook. Through her writing she demonstrates her passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives
Breastfeeding can be a beautiful bonding experience for you and your baby. However, it can also be difficult to breastfeed your baby exclusively for months on end. Maybe you need to go back to work soon. Or maybe you just need more flexibility in your day. No matter what your reason is for wanting to transition your baby from breast milk to formula, you’re not alone. Over 65% of moms supplement with formula before their baby’s first birthday.
While some babies may resist this change at first, there are many ways you can ease the transition for them. For more information on how much formula to give when supplementing or how to switch baby formulas, check out our blog!
Below, we’ll explain how to transition a baby from breastmilk to formula step-by-step.
The Benefits of Transitioning Baby From Breastmilk to Formula
The benefits of breastfeeding for the first six months are heralded by the American Medical Association and World Health Organization. However, breastfeeding exclusively isn’t possible for all moms, and that’s okay!
There are many valid reasons why you might choose to transition your baby from breast milk to formula, including the following:
- You have to go back to work soon
- You don’t have enough breast milk supply to adequately nourish your baby
- Nursing is too time-consuming
- You need to take medication that will make breastfeeding unsafe
- You’re tired of breastfeeding
Formula feeding can offer you the flexibility and convenience you need to make mom-life a little easier, while simultaneously ensuring your baby is adequately nourished. There are plenty of infant formula options on the market that provide all of the nutrition your baby needs to grow and thrive.
How to Transition Your Baby From Breastmilk to Formula
If you’re wondering how to switch a baby from breastmilk to formula, here are some helpful tips.
#1 Choose the Right Time to Transition
You can transition your baby to formula at any time. However, it’s important to know that it could take anywhere from two to six weeks to fully transition. As a result, you should start the process a few weeks before you need to formula-feed exclusively.
If you aren’t in a rush to stop nursing, you can make this transition a little easier on yourself by waiting until the six-month mark.
By six months, your baby will be trying out some solid foods too. Since they'll already be exploring new tastes, they may be more willing to accept formula without a fuss.
Why A Gradual Transition is So Important
Stopping breastfeeding cold turkey can be harmful to both you and your baby. Your baby may struggle to adjust to a sudden transition, both physically and emotionally. After all, some babies don’t like bottle-feeding or the taste of formula right away. It takes some getting used to and time to wean.
Furthermore, stopping breastfeeding suddenly could put you at risk for:
- Painful breast engorgement
- Clogged milk ducts
- Milk duct infections
- Milk fever (a flu-like condition)
- Leaky breasts
By transitioning gradually, you can give your breastfed baby plenty of time to acclimate and allow your body to slow down its milk production.
#2 Bottle Feed With Breast Milk
Once you decide to begin the weaning process, the first step is to get your baby used to bottle-feeding. Some babies embrace bottles faster than others. Other babies may be very picky about the types of bottles they like.
Fortunately, babies love the warmth and taste of their mother’s breast milk.
By bottle-feeding your baby with breast milk first, rather than formula, you can entice him or her to give bottle-feeding a try.
Begin Bottle-Feeding Slowly
To help your baby get used to bottle-feeding, swap out one nursing session a day with a breast milk bottle.
Since your baby will be familiar with the taste of your breast milk, he or she may be more inclined to try out the bottle with an open mind. However, there’s always a chance that your baby rejects the bottle (more on that below).
Once your baby has successfully embraced bottle-feeding, you can start replacing more nursing sessions with bottle-feeding sessions each day until you’ve reached your ideal nursing schedule (whether that’s a few times a day or none at all).
What Are The Best Types of Bottles For Breastfed Babies?
Choosing the right baby bottle can make a world of difference in the gradual weaning process. Ideally, you want to find a bottle that mimics the breastfeeding experience as much as possible.
Look for a bottle with a:
- Wide mouth – Wide-mouthed bottles emulate the look of a breast more than narrow-mouthed bottles. This small detail can help your baby associate their bottle with nursing.
- Nipple-shaped cap – The bottle’s cap is another important feature to pay attention to. You need to find a bottle cap with a nipple that your baby’s mouth can comfortably latch on to. Finding the right one may require some trial and error, since they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials.
- Portable bottle warmer – Babies often prefer body temperature breast milk in their bottle, since it feels more similar to nursing.
When you’re at home, you can simply warm up the milk by placing the bottle in a bowl of warm water. Just make sure to feel the formula before giving it to your baby. You don’t want to burn them by accident.
When you’re away from home, you can use a portable bottle warmer instead. These battery-powered devices can warm your baby’s bottle to the ideal temperature, no matter where you are.
What If Your Baby Rejects the Bottle?
Some babies will have a harder time getting used to bottle-feeding than others. If your baby rejects the bottle, try some of these tactics:
- Try out a different bottle
- Make sure you’re relaxed when you bottle-feed your baby (babies are very attuned to their mom’s emotions)
- Ask your partner or another caregiver to introduce the bottle instead (your baby may associate you too closely with nursing)
- Introduce the bottle when your baby is not too tired, hungry, or fussy
#3 Transition to a Formula Bottle
Once your baby is used to bottle-feeding, you can start preparing formula bottles instead. Introduce them to formula in the morning when they’re not ravenously hungry—around two hours after you’ve fed them breast milk. Since they won’t be too hungry, they will be less likely to get upset by the novel taste of the formula.
You may also want to try feeding them the formula in a different location than you usually nurse. If your partner or another caregiver is available, ask them to feed your baby the formula. All of these unfamiliar situations can reduce your baby’s expectation for their preferred breast milk.
There’s a chance that your baby won’t like the taste of formula. After all, their palette exclusively consists of breast milk flavor so far. In this case, you can offer them a combination of breast milk and formula in their bottle, steadily increasing the ratio of formula over time.
Is it Safe to Mix Breast Milk and Formula Together?
It’s usually safe to mix breast milk and formula together. However, you may want to consult with your pediatrician before trying out this strategy. If you don’t prepare the formula properly, you could accidentally alter the overall nutritional value of the bottled mixture.
How to Safely Mix Breast Milk and Formula
If you want to combine breast milk and formula together, prepare the formula on its own according to its instructions. Never add powdered formula directly to breast milk without adding water to it first, as this could mess with the nutritional content and cause digestive issues.
Next, combine the breast milk and formula in the bottle, starting with a mixture that’s made of breast milk primarily. Over time, you can gradually increase the ratio of formula, following a schedule that looks like this:
- Week one: All breast milk
- Week two: 1:4 ratio of formula to breast milk
- Week three: 1:1 ratio of formula to breast milk
- Week four: 4:1 ratio of formula to breast milk
- Week five: All formula going forward
This gradual process will eventually enable you to stop breastfeeding while still giving your baby a smooth transition.
How to Choose the Best Formula
Many moms breastfeed longer than they want to because they believe it’s the best way to nourish their baby. However, many baby formulas offer all of the nutrients your baby needs.
As you review your formula options, look for one that is:
- Balanced in nutrients
- Made of sustainable, clean ingredients
- Free of any potential food allergens (cow’s milk and soy are two common culprits)
- Low in added sugar
Transition to a Toddler Formula with Else, a Clean, Plant-Based Alternative
If your baby is over one and you want a nourishing, allergen-free toddler formula, look no further than Else.
Our Plant-Based Complete Nutrition for Toddlers is made from three nourishing plant-based ingredients—almonds, tapioca, and buckwheat. As a result, it’s the first soy-free, dairy-free, organic, non-GMO, minimally-processed formula on the market. It offers balanced nutrition, clean ingredients, and a taste your toddler will love.
By choosing Else, you can feel empowered as you transition from breast milk to formula, knowing you're giving your toddler the very best.
CDC. Breastfeeding Report Card.
Kids Health. Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding.
Very Well Family. Sudden Weaning From Breastfeeding.
Grow by Web MD. What Is Mastitis?
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.