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Feeding Your Baby

How to make the breast milk to infant formula switch?

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Parents may decide to switch their baby from breast milk to infant formula for lots of reasons. Your milk supply may be low, your baby may have a milk allergy, or you may decide that formula just works better for your family. Whatever the reason, we’ve got all the information you need to make the switch from breast milk to infant formula switch as smooth as possible. 

Switching from breastfeeding to formula

A large percentage of parents begin the switch from exclusive breastfeeding to formula by month 3 or 4. Again, there are many reasons for this switch. Moms often return to work around this time and pumping at work may not be as manageable as many moms had hoped. Some moms simply want more help with feedings from their partner or child’s care-taker. All of the reasons for switching to formula are valid.

What formula is best for a breastfed baby?

The first step in transitioning your baby from breast milk to infant formula is to decide which formula to use

It’s important to know that all infant formulas legally sold in the US are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure safety.¹ So be sure to choose one of these options and not a homemade formula or imported formula that is not regulated by the FDA.² 

Next, you need to decide between milk-based, soy-based and hypoallergenic types of formula. If your baby has been breastfeeding well and doesn’t have a milk allergy, a milk-based formula is likely to be a good choice.³ Be sure to talk this decision over with your baby’s healthcare provider, especially if you think your baby may need a special formula. 

Finally, you need to decide if you want to use powdered, liquid concentrate or ready-to-feed infant formula.⁴ Powder and liquid concentrate require mixing with water and ready-to-feed doesn’t. Because it’s the most convenient, ready-to-feed is the most expensive and powder is the least expensive. 

No matter what formula you choose, be sure to read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly when preparing a bottle. 

Introducing a bottle to your baby

If you are transitioning to formula and your baby has never taken breast milk from a bottle before, then it will be an important part of the process to introduce the bottle as well as the formula. 

It may be helpful to take the transition in steps (if you have time) and first introduce the bottle using breast milk before tackling the transition to formula. Here are some tips for making the leap to bottle feeding:⁵

  • Pick an easy feeding time: If there is a time of day that your baby is most relaxed for a feeding, that may be the best time to try out a bottle. Trying something new with a crying, hungry baby is not likely to be successful. 
  • Try paced bottle feeding: Paced bottle feeding is a method that tries to simulate the actions of breastfeeding, but with a bottle. Holding your baby upright and the bottle horizontally, allowing your baby to control the pace of feeding, and taking breaks are all part of this method. 
  • Let someone else introduce the bottle: Since your baby may associate your smell with breastfeeding, it may be helpful to let someone else introduce the bottle to avoid confusion. 

How to wean your baby

Just like introducing a bottle, it may be best to take some time to transition your baby from breast milk to formula. Of course, this isn’t always possible, especially if you are making the transition because of a medical issue. 

If you are able to take your time, changing one feeding at a time could be a good approach.⁶ For example, your baby may wake up hungry in the morning and depend on nighttime breastfeeding to fall asleep, so changing an afternoon feed to a formula bottle may be a good place to start. Once this goes well for a few days, you can try changing another feed to a formula bottle.

It can be helpful to pick a place in your home to offer your baby a formula bottle where you don’t usually nurse them. Creating a different routine for a different type of feeding can cue your baby for the change.⁷ 

If possible, try not to introduce something new like a bottle or infant formula when your baby is teething, starting daycare or going through another type of transition. One change at a time often works best for babies.⁷  

Having trouble getting your baby to take a formula bottle?

Despite your best efforts, some babies might have a tougher time with the transition to infant formula and using a baby bottle. Here are some ways to troubleshoot issues that may come up along the way:⁵

  • Try different types of bottles and nipples: Bottles come in a variety of shapes and sizes and nipples come in many forms, including slow flow. If you experiment with different types of bottles and nipples, you may find that certain ones are a better fit for your baby.
  • Make the formula a different temperature: It’s safe to feed a baby either cold or warm infant formula, but some babies do have a preference for one or the other. If a certain temperature isn’t working well, you can try a different temperature to see if this helps. Just remember, NEVER heat infant formula in a microwave. 
  • Keep an item that smells like you nearby: If someone else is bottle feeding your baby and having trouble, it may help for them to have one of your shirts or another piece of clothing nearby. This way your baby can smell you during the feed, which they may associate with eating.
  • Try bottle feeding skin to skin: Since your baby is used to breastfeeding skin to skin, it may feel more natural for them to bottle feed this way. 

Switching to formula from breast milk

Making the switch from breast milk to infant formula from a bottle goes smoothly for some…and not so smoothly for others. If you are able to take it slowly, this may make the process a little easier for you and your baby. 

When in doubt, if you’re having any trouble selecting a formula or making the transition, call your baby’s healthcare provider for advice. They are there to help!

Sources:

1- Questions & answers for consumers concerning infant formula | Food and Drug Administration

2- Choosing an infant formula | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

3- Choosing an infant formula | American Academy of Pediatrics

4- Formula feeding FAQs: preparation and storage | Nemours Kids Health

5- Bottles and other tools | La Leche League International

6- Weaning: how to | La Leche League International

7- Weaning your child | Nemours Kids Health

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

This post may contain affiliate links, and we may receive commissions for purchases made from this post.

Meet the Author

Morgan Leafe

Morgan Leafe, MD, MHA, is a medical writer and editor who is double board certified in Pediatrics and Clinical Informatics with 14 years of clinical experience caring for pediatric patients and their families. She specializes in writing both patient-facing and clinician-facing material.