How long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?

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Is there a best time at all to switch to formula? Let's find out...

Breastfeeding comes with many questions: how do you know if baby is latching properly? How to tell when baby is full? But one of the most common questions by far is, “how long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?” In this article, we tackle the answer to that question. 

what are newborn reflexes breastfeeding How long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?

How long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?

How Long Should You Breastfeed Before Switching To Formula? 

An uncomplicated answer to this question would be that there’s no best time to switch to formula. You can breastfeed for as long as you like, even extending to toddlerhood and beyond. 

In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that mums should exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months, and then up to a year (and beyond) if possible. 

But, like all things parenting-related, the answer to the question “how long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?” is not that simple. 

First, why is breastmilk so very important to a baby?

Breastmilk, simply put, is like no other food. It is human milk for human babies and as such, is tailor-made to fulfill every single nutritional need of a child until they are ready for solids. 

Packed with proteins, fats, carbohydrates and a complex mix of vitamins, minerals and antibodies, breastmilk not only nourishes your child, but also protects them from illness.

This is especially significant for newborn babies whose immune systems are still weak. So when you breastfeed your newborn your golden colostrum, you are essentially strengthening their immune system. 

Breastmilk is a living food. As your baby grows older, subtle changes take place in your milk’s composition as it adjusts to his nutritional needs. Research has found that the milk produced for girls and boys is different. Breastmilk even changes to include more antibodies when your baby is sick, by “reading” his saliva. 

But it’s not just the nutrition that your baby gets from breastmilk that is important. The act of breastfeeding itself has important psycho-emotional benefits to both mummy and baby.

It helps you bond. It can reduce the risk of post-natal depression in mums and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in babies. And it can calm an anxious, fretful baby like nothing else. 

Honestly, there’s really no reason to give a healthy baby anything else until he starts solids at around six months of age.

Well Then, What About When Baby Starts Solids? 

The current paediatric recommendation is that you start solids at around six months of age. So should you stop breastfeeding at this point?  Absolutely not, if this is your choice. 

In fact, continuing to breastfeed while your baby makes the jump to regular food will ease this transition. It will also help baby digest his solids better, resulting in less tummy issues. 

Should You Switch To Formula When Baby Is A Year Old?

So you’ve breastfed for a year, and baby has already been on solids for around six months. You might hear from well-meaning aunties and friends that now your one-year-old baby can finally start on formula. 

Again, unless you choose to or the paediatrician recommends it, there is absolutely no reason to switch to formula even at this point. 

At 12 months of age, your baby can simply start drinking fresh, whole-cream, full-fat cow’s milk. Any brand would do. It’s cheaper than formula too. 

Wait. My Healthy Baby Does Not Need Any Formula At All? 

Unless there’s a medical reason for your baby to be put on formula or you decide it’s what works best for you and baby, there is actually no reason for a healthy baby to drink formula. 

You can keep breastfeeding for as long as you wish, for as long as it is the right choice for you and your baby. 

cereal baby bottle help sleep lead How long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?

There are some instances when formula is recommended for babies.

What Are The Instances When A Baby Needs Formula? 

Formula is not a bad choice at all mums, so please don’t feel guilty if it’s a decision that you make. In fact, for babies under 12 months of age, it’s the next best thing to breastmilk if you cannot or choose not to breastfeed.

And there are certain instances when formula is recommended by health professionals: 

  • If mummy is sick, or has to take medication or treatments (e.g. chemotherapy) that can pass through to baby via breastmilk and will be harmful to his health. 
  • Baby cannot tolerate dairy, so then a soy-based formula might be recommended. 
  • The paediatrician thinks baby is underweight or has some form of nutrient-deficiency, a speciality formula may be recommended. Such formulas are specifically tailored to address different health issues babies might face, such as low birth weight or severe allergies. 

There are other instances when the choice to formula-feed is made by the baby’s mother: 

  • She finds it more convenient, especially during the night feeds.
  • It’s easier for mum as dad too can feed baby.
  • She cannot breastfeed, for whatever reason, personal or health. 
  • Mummy has to return to work, and she finds formula-feeding easier than pumping breastmilk.
  • Mix-feeds (formula and breastmilk) works better for her
  • She’s had an alcoholic drink or two and doesn’t want to breastfeed her baby. 
  • She lives away from her baby and only sees him/her on the weekend. 

In Summary…

As you can see, the answer to the question “how long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?” is not as simple as it seems. 

But if your baby is healthy, and if you choose to breastfeed, then formula is completely unnecessary for your baby. 

However, if recommended by a paediatrician, or if you choose not to breastfeed for whatever reason, then the answer to the question “how long should you breastfeed before switching to formula?” is for at least three months (ideally). But again, don’t beat yourself up if you feed your baby formula earlier than this. 

Whatever decision you make, mums, know that you do it with your child’s best interest at heart and so, you should not feel guilty about it.

References: La Leche League InternationalWeb MD

Also read: Safe Formula Feeding