Leading health organizations recommend babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months after birth for maximum health benefits.
From 6 months it’s recommended breastfeeding continues while introducing family foods, to ensure your baby has all the nutrients she needs.
The World Health Organization recommends this continues until your baby is two and beyond, if that’s what you decide to do.
There are many reasons babies might not be able to breastfeed or receive their mother’s breast milk.
Sometimes mothers can mix feed, which means giving their baby some of their breastmilk and formula as well.
Other babies might be fully formula-fed.
If babies don’t get any or enough breast milk, either from their own mother or from a donor, the only suitable alternative is infant formula.
Here we will discuss the question you’ve been asking: When do babies stop drinking formula?
Why do we feed our babies formula?
In the mid-1800s, formula was invented as a safer option for babies under 12 months.
Some cultures also used different types of animal milk, such as goat or cow’s milk.
Infant formula seemed to have better outcomes than milk from other species, in terms of feeding a baby who would otherwise starve.
Unfortunately, it also became the preferred option to breast milk.
History shows that, until the 19th century, babies were fed directly from the breast, either by their own mother or a wet nurse.
A wet nurse was a woman who had given birth and still had a milk supply, and who would breastfeed someone else’s baby.
She was often known to the family – perhaps an aunt, grandmother, friend, or a lactating woman who was paid to ensure the survival of another woman’s baby.
Then the feeding bottle was invented and this soon led to a decline in direct breastfeeding and wet nursing.
More and more women were entering the workforce and needed to leave their babies with a carer.
By this time, wet nursing had become more unpopular and was often frowned upon.
Aggressive marketing by companies that produced formula dazzled women with unsubstantiated claims that formula offered complete nutrition and health benefits.
For social and cultural reasons, and due to a lack of research on the health benefits of breast milk, women were actively discouraged from breastfeeding.
Today we’re more aware baby formula is not a nutritionally complete food, unlike breast milk.
Ideally, every baby would have access to human breast milk, whether it comes from the mother or from a milk donor. This isn’t always possible, though, and formula is the next best alternative.
It’s particularly important to use formula correctly, as it’s a man-made product, and not as protective as breast milk. It can easily be contaminated by bacteria or misused if not made up correctly.
You can read more in formula Feeding – 9 Things To Avoid When Using Formula.
When should I wean my baby off formula?
If your baby can’t have access to breast milk from you, either direct or expressed, or donated from another mother, then baby formula is the next best option.
Breast milk or formula is the most important form of nutrition for babies for the first year of life.
When they turn 1 your little ones can start to have other forms of milk, such as cow’s milk if that’s what you choose.
You can start to offer your baby cow’s milk from six months, but only mixed with other foods, such as oatmeal; it shouldn’t be given as a complete drink.
Do babies need formula after 6 months?
Baby formula is still vital after six months if your little one isn’t having breast milk.
Although they might start to practice eating some solids, it’s unlikely babies will get all the nutrition they need from solids at this age.
Breast milk or infant formula is still the main source of nutrition after 6 months, until 12 months.
Do babies need formula after 12 months?
Babies don’t need formula after 12 months.
They’re able to get everything they need at this age from cow’s milk and family foods, offered regularly throughout the day.
Some children who are allergic to dairy or have a lactose intolerance might do better on soy milk. It’s best to seek advice from your child’s pediatrician.
On the other hand, because of its wonderful nutritional and psychological benefits, breast milk is still recommended after 12 months, up until 2 years, and beyond.
There’s plenty of marketing out there for toddler formula; this tends to encourage parents to feel their little one needs it for added nutrients.
This is a money-making ploy.
You can read more about it in our articles:
- Toddler Formulas – 7 Things You Need To Know
- Is Toddler Formula A Waste Of Money? Find Out Who Says Yes!
When do babies stop drinking formula at night?
Every baby is different when it comes to sleep during the day and night.
If a baby under 12 months is waking at night, she might be looking for a drink of breast milk or formula, as it’s still the main source of nutrition and comfort.
There’s no magical cut-off point or a rule book that states exactly when babies will stop feeding at night, either breast milk or formula.
Read our articles about night waking; they will help reassure you:
What can I offer my baby other than formula after 6 months?
From 6 months, babies need more nutrition in their diet than breast milk or formula feeding can offer.
Offering your 6-month-old baby a wide variety of safe foods that contain nutrients such as iron and zinc is important for physical and brain development.
Babies need these nutrients from food, and not from formula or breast milk alone.
Some babies might no longer need formula before they reach 12 months.
For example, if a breastfeeding mother has an ongoing low milk supply and is supplementing her baby with formula, it’s possible formula won’t be required after the baby starts to consume solids.
Check out our article When Can Babies Start Eating Baby Food to find out how to tell whether your baby is ready, and what foods to introduce.
When do babies stop drinking from a bottle?
Most babies who are bottle feeding will probably continue until they’re about one year old.
It’s recommended toddlers switch from bottle-feeding to regular open-topped cups for drinking water or whole milk.
Bottles and sippy cups interfere with toddlers learning how to use their tongues properly.
This can affect their ability to chew and swallow solid foods, as well as potentially interfere with speech and language development.
It might take your child a while to master an open cup, and there could be some mess initially – but it’s worth it.
Toddlers will learn to use a cup quickly and use their tongues better if you just put a small amount of fluid into the cup each time.
You might like to read more in Why Your Toddler Shouldn’t Use A Sippy Cup.
What can toddlers have to drink beyond 12 months?
Toddlers over one year of age need a wide variety of solid foods to meet their nutrient needs; milk alone isn’t enough.
If you offer your little one a variety of nutritious foods you’ll encourage healthy eating habits.
Parents often seek advice from their pediatrician, as they are worried their children won’t get enough nutrition because they’re picky eaters.
In fact, it’s normal for toddlers to go through a picky eating phase.
A healthy child won’t starve simply due to picky eating.
Unfortunately, when you give toddlers formula, it tends to fill them up, and they won’t have any appetite for solid foods.
This creates an ongoing problem, and can affect their weight gain as well as their development. Speak to your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child’s eating habits.
When you make the decision to stop giving your baby formula, you might worry about what to give instead.
After 12 months of age, your child can drink water or full cream cow’s milk.
Fruit juices aren’t recommended, due to their high sugar content. There are also various health risks in giving fruit juice to babies, such as increasing the risk of tooth decay.
Other drinks that aren’t suitable options include:
- Tea (including iced and herbal teas)
- Flavored milk
- Vitamin drinks
- Sports drinks
- Energy drinks
- Soft/fizzy drinks
Some of these can be hazardous to your baby’s health and brain development.