Written by Caroline Meyer

You may breastfeed to start and switch to formula later. You may use formula right from the start. You may combination feed using both breast milk and formula all along. Whatever you choose to do, there comes a time when formula feeding needs to stop. When do you stop feeding formula? Where possible, it is recommended to breastfeed for your baby for at least 6 months after birth and after 6 months use a combination of solid food and breastmilk as your feeding choice. If you choose mixed feeding (breast and formula) or straight formula feeding, you could look at a similar option of introducing solid foods at six months. You can start to offer a wide variety of foods from 12 months to ensure nutrient needs are being met and can then taper off formula feeding. Some mums may choose to breastfeed for longer by choice, but as long as the little ones are gaining enough nutrients from solid food, it isn’t really necessary after this point. 

Toddlers may be a little picky and this might alarm parents so that they reintroduce formula or continue giving formula long after it stops being needed. This actually creates an ongoing problem. Kids that fill up on formula will not have a decent appetite when it comes to solids, exacerbating the “picky eating” scenario. Ditch the formula and offer a few different food options and your toddler may soon get over the phase of not wanting to eat their solids. 

There has also been a correlation between slower speech development in toddlers that use bottles for longer periods of time.  As soon as they are able to use a cup, switch them over to an open topped cup.  Sippy cups may be okay for a little while but also interfere with the tongue movements needed to learn proper speech. Bottles and sippy cups may actually inhibit the correct movement of the tongue to be able to move food around in the mouth and chew and swallow correctly. 

At 12 months, if you feel the need to give your child milk, you can switch to cow’s milk provided that the child does not have a dairy allergy or is lactose intolerant. Before the age of 12 months cow’s milk is not recommended as it may cause harm to the baby’s developing kidneys. There are vitamins and minerals in cow’s milk that babies struggle to process and with there being safer alternatives, it is not recommended. After the age of 12 months you can serve your little one whole milk (not the low fat, skim or lower fat percentage milk). Small kids need the higher fat levels for digestion. Cow’s milk also offers vitamin D and calcium, protein and carbohydrates. It can be replaced with soymilk or lactose free milk for children with allergies or intolerance. 

By the age of 1 year old, your little one should be eating the same things as the rest of the family. Keep the meals healthy and ensure that they contain protein, grains, dairy and fruit and vegetables. Food consumption should be about 1000 calories every day. If you are concerned that your toddler is not receiving enough nutrition or not eating enough to develop properly, speak to your doctor to rule out any health conditions and get advice on how to proceed to ensure no harm comes to your little one. 

Switching over from formula to something else needs to be gradual, which will also make it less traumatic for some young ones. Start by reducing the amount of formula you give your child and offering other drinks in between or mixing the formula with cow’s milk in increments over time. Only offer formula after a meal so that they have an appetite for their food. Some little ones will need a full formula only bottle at bedtime for a while to comfort and soothe them before sleep time.  It is fine to do this for 6 months or so and then taper off for a while before completely stopping the bedtime bottle. Weaning is not always a quick process and the first while can be rough but they will eventually get past it and sooner than you think.  Try introducing the sippy cup early on so it makes getting rid of the bottle easier. Transitioning from sippy cup to open top cup is much easier and by 18 months there should be no more bottle feeding. 

Bottles have been linked to problems with tooth development as well as obesity in early childhood if it is prolonged for longer than a year and a half. Little ones are more likely to ensure they finish their bottles than cleaning their plate of healthy food choices. If your child is eating a balanced, healthy diet they should not be drinking more than 3 cups of milk per day. Offer water if they complain about being thirsty.  

Avoid offering fruit juices as these have a high sugar content and can lead to increased risk for tooth decay. Avoid flavoured milk, teas, sports drinks, cordials, energy drinks, vitamin drinks, fizzy drinks and anything that contains alcohol. Water is a good thirst quencher and generally available wherever you might be. Soy, cow’s milk and certain nut milks can be an option, but as a formula replacement not as a bonus milk drink. Water activated with fruit and vegetables can also be an option for those that refuse to drink plain water. 

So, it is safe to say that the right time to stop formula feeding is around 12 months to a maximum of 18 months by which time your toddler should also be weaned off the bottle and on to a cup.  This should help with normal tongue development and reduce the risk of problems with tooth development and speech and language issues related to tongue movement.