How Long Should an Infant Stay on Formula?

By Sara Ipatenco
Some mothers alternate between breast milk and formula.
Some mothers alternate between breast milk and formula.

Though not all women want or are able to breastfeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. If you don't want to nurse or aren't able to breastfeed, infant formula is a nutritious alternative that supplies the nutrients your infant needs to grow. As your baby gets older, however, she won't drink as much formula and will eventually transition away from formula all together.

Infant Formula 101

While breast milk is the best food for your infant, formula is a close a second. There are numerous reasons why a mother might choose to use formula, such as adoption, difficulty nursing, the need to monitor exactly how much food the baby is getting, to include other family members in the feeding rituals or because mom might be taking medications that pass through to breast milk. Whatever the reason for feeding your baby formula, she'll be getting the right balance of nutrients to support her growing process.

Formula Feeding Time Frame

As a newborn, your baby will be eating every two to three hours, and as she gets older, she'll be able to go for three to four hours between feedings. During the first few weeks of life, your little one will usually eat between two or three ounces of formula, which will gradually increase as she gets older, according to KidsHealth. Because you shouldn't give your baby cow's milk until she reaches her first birthday, plan on offering formula until that milestone.

Formula and Introducing Solid Foods

Once you start giving your baby solid foods, which generally occurs around four to six months of age, she'll drink less formula the KidsHealth website notes. However, just because your baby is eating more solid foods, doesn't mean that she doesn't also need formula. Formula remains the primary source of calories and nutrients for your child until she turns 1 year of age, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. As she begins to eat more baby foods and tiny bites of table food, she won't need as many calories from formula, but formula is still an essential part of her diet until her first birthday.

Weaning Off Formula

Once your baby turns 1, you can wean her off formula and start offering cow's milk. Mix cow's milk into her formula and gradually reducing the ratio of formula to cow's milk until your baby is drinking only cow's milk. Offer the milk in a cup instead of a bottle, recommends the Minnesota Department of Health. Serve your baby whole milk until she reaches her second birthday, because she needs the fat in the milk to support normal brain development, KidsHealth notes.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.