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Bottlefeeding, Switching to Milk

How do I switch my food-sensitive baby from formula to milk?–Diane in Spring, Texas

Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: All three of my sons had some degree of reflux when they were babies, and one of them was very sensitive to dairy products. I think I had baby spit-up on every piece of clothing and furniture I owned for at least a year.

Now that your son is 15 months old, it’s time to switch him from infant formula. At one year of age, babies can be taken off infant formula and switched to whole milk (or milk alternative), but not a reduced-fat product, as they still need the calories and nutrition that the dietary fat provides to grow and develop properly. Finding the best product for your son will likely be a process of trial and error, and I hope it’s quick and easy! I agree with your pediatrician that it’s a good idea to try a lactose-free product first. When I took my sons off their infant formula, I started by offering them whole milk. Two of them did just fine, in spite of my history of lactose intolerance. My middle son didn’t do well on the whole milk, so we offered him soy milk, and that worked well for him. It’s hard to know if your son’s eczema flare was triggered by the dairy component of the yogurt he ate, or if it was related to the fruit or other ingredients in the yogurt. Most lactose-sensitive folks can eat hard cheeses and yogurt without much trouble, even if they can’t handle milk.

If you don’t want to risk having another flare-up of your son’s eczema by trying whole milk, it might be best to try soy milk first. Since you and your husband have a history of food allergies and intolerance, and your son has existing eczema and reflux, it might be worth considering having allergy testing on your son, as well as a consultation with a pediatric dietician. That could help you develop a good nutrition plan for your son, which would help ensure his proper growth and development throughout the toddler years and beyond. As a child’s diet continues to expand and he eats a larger variety of foods, it becomes harder and harder to pin down which particular food is responsible for causing stomach upset or skin eruptions. It might also be wise to ask your pediatrician about taking your son off the reflux medication now that he’s older, since recent research has shown that these medicines have a number of long-term health effects.

Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire plan for moms to use when switching food-sensitive children from infant formula to milk or a milk alternative.  It’s almost always a process of trying and discovering what works best for our individual children unless we opt for allergy testing. If I had it to do over, I would probably have my children tested for allergies so that I’d feel more confident about the foods and beverages that I offered them, especially my middle son. I had a really hard time distinguishing which foods he was really sensitive to, and which foods he just didn’t like. If I hadn’t been so determined to find a few calcium-rich foods that he could tolerate, he might have ended up with a deficiency.

The fact that you’re already successfully managing your son’s reflux and eczema, and that you’re alert to his reaction to various foods suggests that you’ll have an easier time than many moms in this process. Best wishes for a smooth transition!

Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a mom of three sons, a family physician, and the coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, The Mommy MD Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, and The Mommy MD Guide to the Toddler  Years

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.