Your baby’s formula is her most important source of nutrition during the first year of life. That’s because formula’s composition closely mimics that of breast milk and thus contains all of the essential vitamins, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates she needs to properly grow and develop. So, when is it OK to just stop formula feeding?
Well, the direct answer to that is around the first birthday. But in reality, stopping formula feeding is not a single event, but rather a process that beings several months prior to baby turning one.
Your baby will begin eating solids or complimentary foods around 4 to 6 months of age. This begins the slow introduction of foods that will eventually become vital to her later nutritional requirements.
As discussed in this blog post, the introduction of complimentary foods often begins with just one feeding per day and relatively few, bland foods (cereal, porridge, oatmeal, or pureed fruits and vegetables). Over time this gradually increases to three or more feedings per day consisting of all sorts of pureed and table foods.
The time to drop formula comes when your baby can readily consume, from food, about 900 calories per day and those calories are comprised of the number of vitamins, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that formula previously provided. The introduction of whole or full fat “table milk” (regular cow’s milk that we buy for ourselves by the gallon) will also be introduced around this time, assisting with caloric and fat requirements.
Whole milk, or 2% at the lowest, is recommended because its fattier content is better at maintaining proper growth and brain development.
For most babies, the ability to meet nutritional requirements using foods and table milk instead of formula comes around the first birthday and that’s why “one-year” is a “rule of thumb” for ceasing formula use.
But Can Extended Formula Feeding Be Beneficial Like Extended Breastfeeding?
While extended breastfeeding can be helpful in promoting the health and well-being of children in developing countries and places with scarce food resources and unreliable access to clean water, there is no evidence showing benefits for older children in developed countries (despite what you’ve heard preached).
That’s not to say extended breastfeeding should not be practiced in the developed world. While it confers no health or social benefits, it can definitely serve to provide things like comfort to a child, which is great 🙂
As for the scientific evidence for the benefits of formula feeding for 1-year versus 18-months versus 2-years …it’s not really out there. The consensus of bodies like the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics is that stopping formula at age one is appropriate. And I’d have to say, I agree.
What About Toddler Formulas?
Known also as follow-up, next step, toddler milk, and follow-on, these formulas contain more sodium and less protein than table milk and are not necessary.
The World Health Organization deems these toddler drinks “unnecessary” and “unsuitable,” and the American Academy of Family Physicians says toddler drinks hold no advantage over cow’s milk and a nutritious diet.
The European Food Safety Authority only recommends follow-up formula for children whose dietary needs cannot be met using the introduction of different or additional foods.
So, why do they even exist?
Well, they’re primarily used as a marketing tool to build brand recognition in countries where the marketing of infant formula is strictly regulated. It’s a marketing loophole – obeying the rules while advertising formula to “non-infants” ultimately increases the brand’s sales of toddler AND infant formulas. And it’s quite a successful tactic as seen here and here.
Do we feel these toddler formulas are “bad” or harmful? No. However, we do agree that they’re not necessary whatsoever and would not encourage you to invest in them, unless otherwise indicated by your baby’s healthcare provider.
Some Things To Keep In Mind
If you’ve been feeding soy or hypoallergenic infant formula, consult with your baby’s healthcare provider as you approach the one-year mark and begin the transition to table milk. There’s a good chance your baby has outgrown his intolerance or allergy to milk protein, as these issues are very common in infants but dissipate with time. However, this may still be an issue at which point your baby will require an alternative to cow’s table milk.