Help! How to Switch from Breastmilk to Formula Without Tears and Constipation?

Breastfeeding is a fantastic option for some parents, but not all mothers want to breastfeed for an entire year. If you decide to wean your child from breastmilk before reaching one-year-old, you have to learn how to switch from breastmilk to formula. 

Now, if you find that you’re happy and enjoy breastfeeding, feel free to continue! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and then as long as both mother and baby are happy.

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least two years.

While that might be the recommendation, life happens. You might start a new job, have a huge life change, or simply feel like breastfeeding isn’t working for your family. That’s okay – never feel bad if you decide to switch to formula. Fed is best.

However, what is essential is that you learn the proper way when weaning your baby from breastmilk to formula. Doing so incorrectly can lead to bellyaches, constipation, and an overall unhappy baby. You don’t want that! So, here’s what you need to do.

How Do I Switch From Breastmilk to Formula?

When you’re ready to switch from breastmilk to formula, here’s what you should do. 

Know When to Introduce Formula 

It’s always best to gradually transition to formula; it makes it much easier for your baby. If you know that you need to have your baby on infant formula by a specific date (perhaps when you go back to work), start introducing a month beforehand. 

Why so far in advance?

  1. It gives your baby time to get used to drinking from a bottle. This is particularly important if you do want to continue to breastfeed while supplementing with formula. It’s crucial not to cause nipple confusion.
  2. Introducing formula a month ahead of time reduces breast engorgement. If you drastically reduce how much breastmilk your baby needs at one time or cold turkey completely, you’ll end up engorged, which can lead to clogged ducts and mastitis – not fun. 
  3. Also, it gives your baby’s digestive system time to adjust to formula. Breastmilk is harder to digest than breastmilk, so a slow introduction reduces the risk of belly aches and constipation. 

Introduce Bottles of Breastmilk

Ideally, you don’t want to introduce bottles of formula first. Your baby likes the taste of breastmilk, and he might reject the bottle due to the new flavor of formula. Some babies are picky, and it’s best to avoid that for now while adjusting your baby to bottles.

Replace Breastfeeding with a Bottle – One at Time

Mom formula feeding her baby

When you think your baby is ready to transition to formula, start replacing one breastfeeding session with a bottle of formula. It’s often a good idea to pick a feeding time that your baby isn’t desperately hungry, so as in the morning. Pick a time when your baby is calm and relaxed. 

Now that you conquered a few days of one bottle per day, drop another breastfeeding session for an additional bottle of formula. Not only does this give your body time to adjust and reduce your milk supply, but it also adjusts his belly to the change. 

Take Time to Get to the Schedule You Want

Remember that transitioning from breastmilk to formula takes time, and starting ahead of time takes away any pressure. 

Continue to do this elimination of one nursing session at a time until you reach your final goal. You might want only to give formula throughout the day. You might want to exclusively formula feed, or you might only want to give formula when you’re away from your baby.

There is no right or wrong. Keep eliminating nursing sessions over a stretch of time and providing bottles instead. Babies can and will adjust, but their bellies and your breasts aren’t fans of fast changes. 

What to Do if Your Breastfed Baby is Refusing the Bottle?

Babies can be picky creatures, and at times, you might have a baby who refuses to use bottles. This isn’t uncommon for breastfed babies; they prefer to drink from the tap. 

Unfortunately, not all babies will switch when they refuse. Most will, over time, but some mothers have babies who refuse bottles altogether.

Here are some tips to help your baby take a bottle when he refuses.

  • First, try a few different brands and styles of bottoms and nipples. While most breastfed babies like wide-neck bottles, you might want to try standard bottles instead. 
  • Ensure you have your partner or caregiver give the bottle instead of you; babies know that you have the tap! 
  • Don’t give your baby a bottle when they’re too tired or hungry. 
  • Offer the breast first, then switch to a bottle. Sometimes, once they fill their bellies a bit, they’re more willing to switch to a bottle. 

How Long Does It Take for a Baby to Get Used to Formula?

Babies, especially little ones, have an immature digestive system, so it can take time to adjust to a new formula. Some can adjust in as little as a week, but other babies can take up to six weeks! 

Don’t set your baby on a timeline. Instead, watch your baby; he will express symptoms of discomfort to let you know if he’s having problems adjusting to formula. It would help if you wrote down any signs that you notice and watch how they progress over time. 

Chances are your baby WILL have some signs of discomfort, but if those symptoms go away and get better, you know that your baby is adjusting. If they don’t go away, you know you have a problem, and you need to either stop introducing formula at this time or try a new formula that might be better for your sensitive baby. 

Signs that Your Baby Is Struggling to Adjust to Formula

Watch for these signs that your baby isn’t reacting well to formula.

  • Not sleeping well
  • Cries often
  • Increased fussiness
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive gassiness
  • Constipation
  • Grimaces
  • Pulls up legs 

Can You Mix Formula and Breastmilk in One Bottle?

Many parents wonder if mixing breastmilk and formula in the same bottle is a good idea. The answer is yes, and no. 

Let’s explain that since it’s not a good explanation.

In theory, you CAN mix breastmilk and formula in one bottle if you prefer. For some babies, that helps your baby adjust to the flavor, and you can gradually decrease the amount of breastmilk used to help your baby’s digestive tract adjust to the infant formula.

Mom preparing formula milk

However, the La Leche League and other doctors recommend that parents have separate bottles for breastmilk and formula. They suggest that you first provide your baby with a bottle of pumped milk and then give a bottle of formula. 

One reason is that you can waste breastmilk with this method, and we all know that wasted breastmilk is worth crying over – we have to work for that! If your baby doesn’t finish the bottle, you do have to toss it out. 

Another reason is that some evidence suggests that mixing formula and breastmilk can affect how much protein your baby intakes, along with the retention of other nutrients, such as calcium and phosphorus. 

6 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Switching From Breastmilk to Formula 

Supplementing Too Soon 

Some mothers want to breastfeed and supplement with formula to avoid pumping while at work. If that’s you, it’s a perfectly acceptable option. 

Wait until your baby is three to four weeks old to introduce a bottle and formula. You need to solidify your milk supply before you introduce a bottle if you want to maintain it. Supplementing too early can reduce milk production, and switching too soon when you want to continue to breastfeed can cause nipple confusion. 

Switching From Breastmilk to Formula Cold Turkey

Some mothers want to switch from breastmilk to formula cold turkey style – this is NOT recommended. 

In theory, ripping the band-aid off in most situations is a good idea, but this is not one of those times. One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is not transitioning slow enough. 

If you want to switch your baby to formula entirely rather than supplementing, it can take 4-6 weeks to wean your baby entirely. Changing too fast to formula can cause constipation and an upset stomach. 

Having Mom Give Bottles at First 

When you’re a breastfeeding mom, most of the feeding jobs fall on your, but you need to involve your partner when transitioning to formula. Not only does this increase bonding with your partner, but many babies refuse to take bottles from their mom at first.

bottle feeding by dad

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Doing this can make the process much more comfortable. Babies know that their father doesn’t have breasts; they eat from mom. If dad isn’t around, other friends can step in as well; babies know who their mom is! If mom tries to give a bottle at first, your baby might scream, root to nurse, and fuss for the breast instead of drinking a bottle. 

Being Unwilling to Try Other Formulas

Not all formulas work well for all babies. Picking the right formula can make or break it all. The wrong formula might taste nasty to your baby or make his belly hurt too often. 

Don’t get too stuck on the transition schedule that you become unwilling to try other formulas. If your baby is spitting up too much or not adjusting well, your pediatrician can help you pick a formula that might be better for your baby. 

Heating Up Formula Incorrectly

When you breastfeed, you don’t need to think about heating it, but you need to think about it when you use formula. It needs to be the right temperature for your baby – not too hot or too cold.

Here are some things you should remember about heating infant formula. 

  • Don’t use a microwave because it can create hot spots in the milk, which can burn your baby as he drinks it.
  • If it feels warm or hot, it’s too hot for your baby; you want the milk to be lukewarm. 
  • Water-based bottle warmers are the preferred choice, but you also can put the bottle in a bowl of warm water and let it gradually warm the milk for you. 

Forcing the Switch Too Hard on Your Baby

When you have a deadline – such as going back to work – it can make the process feel even more stressful, but forcing the switch can lead to tears from you and your baby.

Forcing anything often tends to lead to its problems. Switching from breastmilk to formula won’t be roses and sunshine the entire time; expect a few setbacks. Once your baby associates formula with being forced, he will be more likely to have anxiety. 

Take a step back and relax. Babies adjust, but you do need to work with your child and make sure he feels comfortable the entire time. 

Switching Takes Time

Even if it feels hard at the time, you can learn how to switch from breastmilk to formula with your baby. Take it slow, and gradually switch one feeding at a time over to formula. Within a few weeks, you will be exactly where you need to be with your baby.

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