How Do I Wean My Baby From Breast milk to Formula?

Making a change from breast milk to formula might seem like a simple transition. In reality, this transition can be a real struggle.

To wean your baby successfully, you need to break down and understand what changes are really being made. Understanding the specifics can dramatically improve how you approach weaning.

Cold turkey weaning can work but…

It usually involves a lot of tears. Yours and your baby’s. If a baby has been exclusively breastfed and then one day, is expected to latch onto a rubber nipple and drink something unfamiliar and different….well, let’s just say this is a recipe for struggle. When you wean a baby, you are changing all kinds of things:

  • the taste of the milk
  • temperature of the milk
  • smell of the milk
  • delivery of the milk
    • device (breast versus bottle)
    • speed of delivery (bottles are generally quicker)
    • cuddled up with mom versus bottle feeding by other caregiver, or even in a crib not touching anyone

Best to take weaning in steps

Rather than change everything, I recommend that you start with one of the above, and change that first. Give baby a chance to adjust, stabilize, and then change something else.

First, I recommend that you start by introducing the bottle. Pump breastmilk and try giving it to baby in the bottle within a few minutes of pumping. Your baby will likely fuss about the bottle, but the comfort of her mother cuddled close, plus the familiar taste and temperature of her mother’s milk will win her over. This may take more than a few sessions to help her adjust to taking breastmilk from a bottle. But it is worthwhile to take this step slowly. After all, once baby identifies the bottle as a good thing where good things come from, the rest will be much easier.

Next, I would introduce other small feeding changes, but not involving formula. I’d introduce baby to the concept of drinking from a bottle while dad holds it, or lying in the bassinet. In doing so, you are helping your child get accustomed to changes around feeding time. After all, feeding time to this point has been consistent and stable, and a reliable place for baby to be comforted. When you stop nursing, you will cuddle and love the child, but that place of comfort does change. You can help her get used to the idea of change, and show her how stable and secure things really are.

Once you’ve been playing with the transition pieces, it is time to introduce formula. Like it or not, formula doesn’t taste like breastmilk. It just doesn’t. (Have you smelled it? It smells kind of revolting). If you just give baby a bottle of formula without letting her get used to it, she’s going to hate it, and hate you.

Keep pumping breastmilk, and make bottles for her with small amounts of formula in them. Initially, most of the bottle is still breastmilk. Baby may notice the change in taste, but since everything else is still the same, it shouldn’t be a big deal. Over time, you can add more formula and reduce the amount of breastmilk.

Slower weaning is best…

There’s several reasons to slowly introduce formula. One, mother’s breasts need to adjust to the changes in how much milk her body needs to produce. If you stop cold turkey, mother is asking for problems with engorgement, plugged, ducts, infections, leaky breasts, and a lot of discomfort.

Next, introducing formula slowly will give you a chance to see how baby’s stomach does with it. Sometimes infants and babies struggle to process certain formulations of formula, and this is a time when allergies or intolerances emerge. (Lactose, etc). As you increase the formula, you will pay close attention to baby during and after feeding. Is she comfortable, full, and sleepy? Or does she have more gas than usual? Is there more crying (or perhaps less). Do her diapers look normal (meaning stools aren’t more loose than usual, discolored or showing other trouble signs).

If one type of formula seems to cause problems for baby, you haven’t gone down the road too far. Mother is still producing breastmilk. Baby can be put back on breastmilk and stabilized, then a new formula can be introduced slowly as before. Watch, wait, and see!

Bottle troubles

Some parents find that it is very difficult to get their baby to take a bottle. While technology has come a long way over the years, it is still very difficult to mimic the letdown of the mother’s breastmilk. While nursing, the infant latches, and then she doesn’t have to suck much. The milk simply sprays out as the infant compresses her mouth and lips. Most people assume infants are sucking to get the milk out (like we might suck soda up a straw) but that’s not actually the case.

Transitioning to a bottle can be hard. Your baby may suck on the bottle (and get latched), but find herself disappointed that the milk doesn’t flow out the same as before. Most bottles are made so that they don’t leak at all if the baby is not actively sucking on them. (While mother’s milk will continue to spray out even if baby lets go of the nipple).

Some babies just know that the rubber nipple isn’t their mother’s nipple, and refuse to take it, period.

These issues are why some parents end up skipping the bottle entirely, and move straight to sippy cups. There are SO many types of cups out there, and most of them mimic what a bottle does and is. However, the drinking portion of the cup is generally different. The baby may be more willing to learn how to drink out of something new and different than adjust to something not quite as good as mom’s breast.

Formula Troubles

Some babies hate formula. Even if you can get them into drinking from a bottle or cup, they may never take to formula. In this case, the age of the baby really dictates how to respond. If a baby is close to 12 months old, you might be able to avoid formula altogether and supplement the child’s diet in such a way that the loss of “milk” until the child is old enough to drink cow’s milk isn’t a hardship to her body.

For some reason, I have found it easier to convince a 12 month old baby to drink cow’s milk than I have convincing a 12 month old to drink formula. Maybe I’m just prejudiced against the flavor of formula. (It does smell gross)

If your baby is close to 12 months old and you can’t get him to take formula, talk to his pediatrician about how to structure his diet to help him get what he needs until he is just a little bit older.

Share your experiences

Do you have a weaning story to share with our community? Let us know about your weaning experiences in the comments. Questions are also welcome as well.

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