Q&A: introducing cows' milk

Becky writes:

"I have a 11 month old daughter and I am still breatfeeding her, she has never had formula and I would like to start introducing whole milk.  I am a working mother, but am very luck to work at a job that has a daycare facility for its employees.  I use to pump 2 to 3 times a day in my office and freeze my milk, I would go and feed my daughter on my lunch.  Now that she is eating so many types of food we have eliminated pumping and she only nurses 4 times morning 5 or 6 am, afternoon, when we get home 6 pm and before bed at 9:30.  She sleeps the whole night and I am working on dropping the 6 pm feeding time.  She is fine with a bottle; she gets it at daycare with my frozen breastmilk.  But how do I start introducing whole milk.  Do I slowly add to her bottles with my frozen milk and can I just start giving her milk?  Help !!!!"

How you introduce it is going to depend on your daughter's personality. If she's the kind of kid who really doesn't like change, then you should probably mix a little cows' milk with her bottle of your milk, gradually increasing the ratio of cows' milk to your milk until she's only taking cows' milk from a bottle and is only getting your milk when she actually nurses. (And obviously you know this, but I feel I should point out that you can keep nursing her as long as you want to, even if it's only once a day, in addition to the cows' milk she drinks. Or you can gradually replace one nursing session at a time with a bottle of cows' milk.)

If she's fine with change and trying new things, then I'd seize the moment to begin the process of migrating from bottle to cup by giving her cows' milk in a cup instead of a bottle. That way by the time she's off bottles of breastmilk she'll also be off the bottle in general.

Let me interject that I think it's asinine that so many parents are told here in the U.S. that their kids need to be off the bottle by 12 months. Why? There's no reason for it, assuming the child isn't falling asleep every night with a bottle. If a bottle brings your kid comfort, then keep using it until the kid doesn't need it anymore. I've said it before and I'll probably say it another 500 times, but college applications won't ask at what age your kid was off the bottle or the pacifier, so give your kid what s/he needs right now.

But back to Becky. If you want to introduce cows' milk as a separate, new thing, I'd give it to her cold (since you're far more likely to have cold milk at any given time in the future than warm milk) and in either a sippy cup or a straw cup (straw cups tend to be a little easier for younger kids to learn--Melissa left the ur-method for teaching kids to drink from a straw in this comment to an earlier post). Then gradually have your daycare providers switch in a cup of milk for each bottle of breastmilk she's been taking. Take as long as she needs, and it should be a pretty eventless (although perhaps long and gradual) process.

Oh, and she might not like cows' milk. Some kids don't. Kids in some whole cultures and ethnic groups don't ever drink cows' milk. Neither my brother nor I have ever liked cows' milk, in fact. As long as we have other sources of calcium and get plenty of water and other fluids, it's totally fine. So if she doesn't like cows' milk don't worry about it. You could try other calcium-fortified milk-like liquids (soy milk, rice milk, oatmeal milk, etc.) or you could just let it go, get her drinking water, and make sure she has plenty of other calcium-rich foods offered to her over the course of the week.

Good luck. I hope you and she have fun with this transition.