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Milk Wars

Milk Wars

By Amalah

Advice Smackdown ArchivesOh Wise Amy, Please help!

I’ve scoured through your archives and haven’t seen any advice on this topic so I hope you and the lovely commenters can help me.  My daughter is 11 months old and has absolutely refused a bottle her entire life, like I would rather die then drink from that bottle.  Which is ironic because my oldest daughter would only take a bottle after being given one in the NICU, so this whole thing has been very confusing to me. 

I’ve tried five kinds of bottles, most recently, the Adiri Natural Nurser you said cute baby Ike was a fan of but to no avail she screamed and screamed like she was being tortured. She will, however, drink from a sippy cup but will only drink water or more preferably water with a little bit of juice mixed in.  If I give her breastmilk or cow’s milk she takes a sip then spits it out and will not drink from that cup for the rest of the day even if I replace the contents with water/juice.  In an act of desperation I put a little bit of chocolate syrup (I know the horror) to see if it was a sweetness thing and she still spit it out.  So I have two questions….

1.  How do you go about weaning? Cut out a feeding a day? My daughter really only nurses when she wakes up and before naps or bed so how do I replace that comfort?

2.  How do I get my daughter to drink the other milk? What other options do I have, if any?

I would appreciate any help….I love my little girl but I would also love to be able to leave her for more than four hours at a time.  

Thanks so much,
L the Nurser

Yikes, this is a tough one. Not an unusual problem, though, SO I HAVE BEEN TOLD, but one that I have not had to personally deal with. I’ve had one baby (Noah) who took any kind of bottle you waved at him and then easily and seamlessly made the move from formula to milk and bottle to cup right when you’re told babies are supposed to. (Of course, he’s spent every waking minute SINCE throwing me one developmental curveball after another, but at least he gave me the milk/bottle thing.) Then I’ve had two babies (Ezra, Ike) who went through vaguely finnicky phases with bottles but got over it. Ezra also loves cow’s milk. Ike…well, we’ll see. Perhaps we’re due.

At 11 months I’d say it’s probably time to just give up on the bottle thing. Not gonna happen, and even if it does you’re then faced with needing to take it away almost immediately. (Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a stickler for the no-bottles-after-a-year recommendation. And everybody in the comments says I’m overly harsh about it but we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one.)

So. Your questions. For weaning, I’d probably start with the morning feeding? I’m all about Not Messing With Bedtime Until You Absolutely Have To, so the morning feeding can more easily be skipped over in favor of heading right to breakfast. Ezra weaned himself at 10.5 months, and I mostly missed the morning feeding because it let me doze a little longer while he nursed, but he was perfectly happy getting up and going directly to the breakfast table.

There are a lot of ways to cut out the bedtime session, some more painful/time-consuming than others, depending on how…uh, dependent your daughter is on getting nursed to sleep. If she nurses and then you rock and sing and put her down still slightly awake, you can try simply not offering one night and see what happens. Or have your husband/significant other do the rocking and singing or whatever else is part of her routine. If she doesn’t really HAVE a bedtime routine outside of nursing, start one! Bath, books, singing, even just a quiet application of body lotion with the lights off, some music in her room, whatever. Ezra’s bedtime comfort post-nursing was a Taggies blanket and cuddling while I sang him songs and rubbed his head. Simple, but effective.

At 12 months her sleeping through the night isn’t super-connected to her tummy being super-full, so if she’ll just take water before bed instead of milk, she’ll still probably be okay. If you’re worried, try to make sure there isn’t a huge time gap between the last time she eats and bedtime. Add an after-dinner (but before bedtime and toothbrushing) snack and don’t stress if you’re unable to get 8 ounces of some kind of milk product in just before she goes to sleep.

It’s possible she might warm up to other milks once she’s weaned from the breast. POSSIBLE. I’d stop pushing it, since you know the reaction. You will never, ever be able to “make” a child drink or eat something that they don’t want, no matter how much you try or plead or cajole or re-package up the presentation. (Though this is a tenet I STILL have to remind myself of on an almost daily basis. I should cross-stitch it up and hang it next to my coffeemaker, or something.)

There’s also the possibility that you’re just plain getting ahead of yourself: the official recommendation is breastmilk or formula only until 12 months. Some pediatricians will give you the green light earlier (mine did), but the fact that she’s not consistently drinking cow’s milk at 11 months old is pretty normal. As is refusing breastmilk from anything other than the actual breast.

But if you’re concerned about her lack of milk intake after you wean — and I fully understand your desire to wean after a solid year of being the ONLY acceptable milk source, gah — rest assured there are children out there who don’t drink milk of any kind, and who are perfectly, wonderfully healthy. My pediatrician has remarked SEVERAL times that we put far too much emphasis on milk being some kind of perfect miracle drink for children. To the point that parents are giving babies and toddlers far more than they actually need (about 16 ounces a day, at 12 months), or assuming that as long as their child is drinking milk, it’s okay that the rest of their diet is full of abysmal crap.

Perhaps your daughter would prefer whole milk yogurt? We buy plain, unsweetened yogurt and then stir in fruit or fresh vanilla bean (not extract) or honey (after 12 months). Does she like cheese? Butter? Macaroni with cheese and butter and milk in the sauce? Oatmeal mixed with butter and milk? Hell, ICE CREAM? Frozen yogurt? There are plenty of opportunities for her to get enough dairy fats and calcium in her diet from other foods than milk.

For non-dairy sources of calcium and vitamin D, there’s tofu, beans, broccoli, eggs, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collards), fish (salmon, tuna, cod), papaya…and lots of juices and cereals will often be fortified with one of these nutrients. These foods might be tougher sells than butter and cheese, but they can be done. I’ve scrambled eggs for Ezra with (organic, non-GMO) tofu and cheese, and he used to love creamed spinach (until Noah started rubbing off on him, BAH). For a super-picky eater like Noah, I’ve added broccoli and green veggies to fruit and yogurt smoothies. (Though I doubt your beverage-picky daughter would go for those yet. More of an older toddler thing.) I make a white bean puree (open can, dump in blender, pulse) to add to mac-and-cheese and cook and freeze our own veggie-fortified fish sticks. Even though my kids DO drink milk with no problem, I still find I have to be diligent and creative when it comes to their diet. Milk is not a get-out-of-the-kitchen-free card, you know?

And if you’re still concerned about her nutrition post-weaning, an age-appropriate multivitamin and DHA supplement might put your mind at ease that she’s not going to wind up malnourished if you take a little break from pushing the milk-in-a-sippy-cup thing. Give her a chance to FORGET how much she hates it and you might get her to reverse her staunch position later on. In the meantime, though, it’ll be okay. She can develop strong teeth and bones without the milk, promise.

Published September 21, 2011. Last updated July 18, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Ally

    September 21, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I have three kids, my oldest hates milk. He is four now and has never really had it. He eats lots of yogurt and other things. Our doctor said it’s fine. Now my second, she is a milk queen. 

  • EW

    September 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    You didn’t mention temperature in either the question or your answer, but when we were weaning my daughter onto cow’s milk, we found that was key.  The milk in the sippy cup had to be quite warm or she’d reject it.  Once she got used to the cup, then we backed off the temperature until it was cold from the fridge, but that was a process that took a long time (until she was 17 months or so?)

    I was lazy and microwaved the milk, then shook it up to avoid hot spots.  I figured since the milk was already pasteurized, 30 seconds in the microwave wouldn’t do any harm.

  • Courtney

    September 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I just wanted to say, I haven’t nursed in about 9 months but reading this just gave me a phantom milk let-down. Weird.

  • KimC

    September 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    My oldest daughter would drink from a bottle, but would not drink milk that wasn’t ‘mama milk’ until around 4 months after she weaned COMPLETELY. At two. So just give her water and juice in a cup, and some nice yogurt and or cottage cheese? We still definitely are rocking the cottage cheese around here.

  • Carie

    September 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    My son went through the same thing when I was weaning. I was trying to get him used to drinking regular milk at meal times but he would take a drink and spit it out. I just kept going it to him in a straw cup since he liked drinking out of those and tried not to force him or get upset when he spit it out so it didn’t become a “thing.” it took a few weeks and we wasted a lot of unused milk but one morning out of the blue he woke up from his nap and drank his full cup of milk with no problems.

  • IrishCream

    September 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    My daughter (13 mos) is cool with sippy cups and cow’s milk, but I think at least half her dairy comes from yogurt. It’s the one food she has never refused, plus it has the added bonus of being a great way to introduce less favored foods. I’ve mixed in veggies, salmon, lamb stew… anything she wouldn’t eat plain, at least initially.

  • Angela

    September 21, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I don’t have anything against milk (heck, my mom grew up on a dairy farm) but we just don’t do it as a beverage around here. We use it on cereal, in soups, etc. and my kids eat cheese and yogurt.  I like them to drink water when they are thirsty, and get calories from something non-liquid if they are hungry.  Ironically, the only one who gets a milk-like beverage is the dairy allergic almost three year old…she gets coconut milk in an effort to get some extra calcium into her.  I wouldn’t worry too much about whether she likes milk if she is getting a good diet overall.  Lots of moms have the opposite problem of trying to get their kids to drink water!

    • Bre

      April 28, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      I just read your comment and was wondering about your child with the dairy allergy…my daughter has a dairy allergy and she is refusing all types of non-dairy milk and her formula (elecare). What other forms of calcium do you use for your child (other than the coconut milk)?

  • yasmara

    September 21, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    My 2nd son never took a bottle. Never. Ever. He just….wouldn’t. I don’t want to be a downer, but we never did find a substitute. He would drink from sippy cups, but he never would drink formula or even pumped breastmilk out of any container whatsoever (except me).

     He’s actually not a big milk drinker to this day & I have my suspicions that he’s inherited my lactose intolerance (which started out mild, but has gotten worse in my 30’s). 

    I was reluctant to cut out the late afternoon/evening feedings for a long time, leading to a long period of co-sleeping and night-nursing.

    However, once he was 15 months old & STILL nursing at night multiple times, we had to make a change. It ended up taking me physically leaving the house & spending the night at my parents’ house for him to night-wean. My husband spent the night soothing him & putting him back to bed (and watching basketball – yay for March Madness), & by the end of the weekend, he was weaned. I don’t recommend doing this with a young baby, but at 15 months he was getting plenty of calories from food & I was oK with him not getting any from me anymore. 

    • Leah

      January 17, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      I am in the same boat! My daughter is 17 months…refuses all bottles , likes some sippy cups. But hates all formulas and milk. Only likes water and my boobs-wakes up nightly still for nursing. And I’m tired….I simply can’t do it any more. I’m drained. So I need to ween her…I need my body back to normal and I need sleep. I’ve been living with sleep deprived headaches for months now because she refuses to nap during the day as well…..The next few weeks are not going to pleasant around here.

  • Megan

    September 21, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    My daughter was the same way! I weaned at 14 months after getting her down to just nightime feedings. It wasn’t easy, but it only took a few days for her to forget all about mah boobs 🙂 The only liquid I was ever able to get her to drink were the Stonyfield drinkable yogurts. But after I weaned she would not drink more than 3-4 ounces a DAY for about a good week. I tried to serve her water-rich fruits and foods in the meantime. After that week she finally started drinking milk from a straw cup or sippy cup and now she is a milk monster! Good luck!

  • Jenn Bo

    September 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    One last suggestion… Maybe temperature of cow milk? I didn’t notice a mention of cold, room temp, warm, etc.  Maybe go to a coffee shop and order a steamed milk.  My nephew was a little particular about milk, but his parents had a espresso machine and they would make him “steamers”.  Of course, he also preferred the steamer with a shot of vanilla syrup.  If that works, you have a new problem because an espresso machine would be a different investment. (PS those  milk foaming wisk things do not do the same thing as steam heat). Last thing, if you happen to be a frequent latte drinker, the espresso machine would pay for itself quickly.

  • Liz

    September 22, 2011 at 12:15 am

    Neither of my children ever took a bottle. My daughter (3 yrs old) doesn’t drink cows milk, she has always hated it. I just give her a lot of yogurt, cheese, other dairy products and she is doing just fine.

    I just had a checkup with my son (16 months) and he is in the 3rd percentile for weight and our new pediatrician said he must drink milk for the calories. Yes! Ok, that would be awesome if I could get him to drink it! He spits it out every time. I was going to try to make my own fruit sauce (strawberry, blueberry, etc) and mix it with the milk to see if he likes the fruit flavor instead. He also eats a ton of other dairy products. The pediatrician recommended Pediasure to help with weight gain but the ingredient list on it is out of control. No way.

    The night time nursing was the last one we gave up. I waited until I felt the time was right (probably at 15 months) and one night I stood up and swayed with him to music instead of rocking and nursing. Boom. In the crib and asleep and from that night we’ve been good to go. It is scary deciding when to actually go through with it, just look for cues. I think that most of the last few weeks of the bedtime nursing was mostly comfort sucking, I don’t think any milk was even coming out. Good luck.

  • CatM

    September 22, 2011 at 9:07 am

    My oldest would not take a bottle at all! He nursed until he was a year then he self-weaned. He would not drink cow’s milk either. We would buy plain yogurt milk from a local Middle Eastern store and to our surprise, he loved it! He drank that until he was around 2, then he would drink plain cow’s milk. Now at age 7, he won’t drink milk unless it is flavored, so he mostly drinks water. He will eat cheese and yogurt and smoothies, but not plain milk.
    Good luck! I am sure she will be just fine. OP offered some great suggestions!

  • Kate

    September 22, 2011 at 10:18 am

    I just wanted to mention that my naturopathic doctor has told me that LOTS of people, even more than realize it, have some sensitivity to dairy. Of course, this usually manifests later in life, but can come about in babies and toddlers. She also told me that there are “categories” of dairy: the plain “milk” category, yogurt, and cheeses. I can tolerate cheese, for example, but not milk or yogurt. I suspect my 2 year old is okay with yogurt and cheese, but not milk (he’s not a fan). YOur daughter’s refusal of the milk just might be a way of telling you it doesn’t really agree with her. Frankly, I think the idea that kids MUST drink cow’s milk is a bit of a crock. As long as she’s getting her calcium from other sources, I wouldn’t worry about it (fwiw, my ped has agreed with me on this). I’d be psyched if I could get my son to drink plain water out of anything 😉

  • Candace

    September 22, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I totally second Amalah on the whole forget the bottle thing. Bottles are overrated, and she will drink from a cup eventually. Try a cup with a straw, Nuby makes ones with a soft bendy straw that is no spill. Let her play with the cup for a while, no pressure. Then put it on her tray with lunch, then all meals, still without pressuring her to drink what is inside. Then start offering her a sip every now and again. No pressure, just a happy, would you like a drink sweetie? Always carry one with you to offer it to her when out playing, at the store etc. The more she sees it, the more she will accept it. But don’t force the issue. She’ll be running around the house with a sippy in no time, really. 🙂 also, try just a normal cup! My son is almost two and prefers to drink like a big kid, and has ever since he was fifteen months. You hold it for them at first but it’s great for them to practice fine motor skills, balance etc with a cup filled with oh say two tables spoons of milk. Try these things, and good luck! 🙂

  • Erin

    September 22, 2011 at 11:06 am

    My daughter was similar to yours, she refused the bottle in a don’t you dare even THINK of giving me a bottle kind of way. Once we hit a year I tried to get her to take sippy cups of milk and she also refused, I’m not a milk drinker so I just gave her other calcium fortified foods like yogurt, cheese and such. But once she completely weaned at 17/18 months she still refused the milk for about a week then was all for it. I think she just didn’t like the idea of having a different kind of milk when Mommy’s milk was still available.

    Now my son on the other hand can’t have milk at all because of a milk allergy, but I swear if he could the kid would down himself a big glass without even blinking. He also refuses bottles but will take almond milk and other milk alternatives in a sippy cup, though not a lot. I figure once he completely weans he will be just like his sister and have no problem sucking down a sippy of milk.

  • Leslie

    September 22, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I think Carie and Candace’s comments are spot on!  At 11 months, I started offering milk to my son in a sippy cup.  He hated it at first, but I just put that cup on his tray at every meal and never made a big deal out of it.  (I only filled it halfway and would put it back in the fridge after the meal to serve at the next meal.  If he didn’t drink that day’s milk, I stirred it into his oatmeal or poured it on my cereal the next morning…helped to not waste as much!)  Little by little, he warmed up to it, but the whole process took a few months.  By the time he was fully weaned at 14 months, he was drinking his milk at mealtimes and it all evened out.  And I’m with Amalah…don’t even bother with the bottle at this point, especially if it’s a struggle anyway!

  • Leslie

    September 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    P.S. One of my favorite sneaky dairy tricks…when making mac and cheese with the powdered sauce (we like Annie’s brand), substitute the butter and milk for 1/2 c. of plain yogurt.  Make it a bit more tangy, but adds protein, calcium, and probiotics!

  • Caroline

    September 22, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Amy, how do you make your own fish sticks? Would love to know the recipe! Thanks.

  • Kaela

    September 22, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Similar situation with our munchkin. Once we actually started weaning though, he was cool with cow’s milk. I had started to worry about how much he despised milk at 11 months too, but all that worrying was for nothing! Also, I asked our pediatrician about it and my son loved yogurt, cottage cheese and string cheese, which provides plenty of dairy. It won’t be the end of the world if your daughter never really likes milk. She’ll get her nutrients elsewhere.

    Agree with trying straws, etc. and forget all about the bottles! One less thing you’ll have to worry about down the road.

  • momzen

    September 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I’m new around here, so please forgive me if my post is inappropriate…. But if your child is happy nursing, and is only doing so two or three times per day, why are you so set on her drinking cow’s milk? She is getting all the nutrients she needs right now from you. And even if you cut down to nursing only once a day or even every few days, she’ll *still* be getting the nutrients… Nursing longer than a year is perfectly normal and acceptable as long as it works for you both. Good luck.

  • Katie

    September 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    My son completely refused cow’s milk, but he was a happy consumer of almond milk.  I don’t know what the real difference was…taste, tummy feeling…but it worked for us and it’s nutritious.  At 4-years old he’s still drinking almond milk and we’ve just stuck with it because it works.  Maybe try other types of milk – almond, hemp, soy, etc?

  • kathryn

    August 8, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    This was seriously the most helpful thing I could find on this subject! You answered this beautifully. I just want to say thank you! My son is almost 15 months and he is still nursing. Similar to the other woman, he does not like milk. Thank you for the tips on the other calcium enriched foods. I really like some of your suggestions! We definitely do the smoothie thing too. You are so right about the milk too. Some people really push it. I never grew up drinking milk and I do not have a calcium deficiency or weak bones. 🙂 Thank you! You seriously made my day!

  • Nikki

    September 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    My son is now 16 months and refuses to drink any form of milk.  I have tried Silk milk, almond milk, strawberry and chocolate milk. I believe that he now looks at it in his sippy cup and refuses to drink it.  He currently is being watched by my MIL and mother he nags about his milk refusal.  He will eat milk with his cereal in the morning and we also place milk in his oatmeal.  I will now also try to give him some of the calcium enriched foods mentioned on this site.  All of these post were helpful.  

  • Kathryn Price

    February 19, 2014 at 11:55 am

    This is such a great, reassuring post – thank you so much. My son went off breastfeeding around 4 months (though he was never a big drinker) and since then it has been a struggle to get any sort of milk into him. He does occasionally have days where he’ll guzzle from the bottle but most of the time he only wants solid food with just sips of milk here and there (usually when he’s distracted by something else and doesn’t notice what he’s doing!). He suffered from v bad reflux so I think that had something to do with it. I give him yoghurt, cheesy pasta, broccoli and really anything and everything I can but I still worry that he’s not getting enough milk. I’m going to try to stop fretting after reading this as it’s so true that you just can’t force them, and it only stresses both of us out… thanks again. 

  • Alissa

    November 17, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you for this post!
    My daughter is almost 11months and continues to nurse while also having solids since 6 months. She has a dairy intolerance that has kept me from eating any dairy and we have both taken probiotics to help with digestion. She loves her sippy cup with water but doesn’t take a bottle. We have begun trying to wean and have eliminated the morning nursing (although she hasnt been thrilled) but we still have a ways to go. She nurses *to* sleep, as in taking away nursing has meant a lot of crying to get her to sleep. But she is beginning to sleep for longer periods of time, which is a relief. She normally wakes up about every 2 hours. We are wondering if something in the breast milk has been the culprit of her reflux and gas issues which have bothered her since about 8 weeks. That has been her problem with not sleeping. I am hoping that weaning will lead to more rest for both of us.
    She is drinking coconut milk as a substitute. There are a lot of non-dairy products out there. Good luck to all the other moms!

  • aliecia

    January 5, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    My daughter is six months n she won’t drink no milk

  • Upasana

    January 6, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Hi Everyone ,
    My daughter is 15 months old and she is also facing the same issue … She doesn’t want to drink any form of milk but just breast feeding 🙁 … I was soooo worried about her health n calcium stuff coz she never became a chubby baby since she was born but as per her doctor her growth is good .. It’s really good to know through the post that we can try alternative of milk …

  • Mikala

    January 23, 2016 at 9:35 pm

    Wow. This has probably been the most helpful thing I’ve read on the Internet. And as I’m sure you know navigating be Internet for parenting advice is like navigating Kabul for Bouncing Betty’s.

  • Jane

    May 3, 2017 at 10:09 am

    My 11 months son is exactly like this,i have tried all kind of milk on sold that I know but 2 know avail,even baby cereals he will not, pap is a no, though he loves to nurse, ie breast milk, this so affected his weight, until just last week, I started discovering little things he likes, like juice, potato, green pea, carrot n so on,I really do understand you perfectly

  • Carly Monteith

    June 29, 2017 at 11:28 am

    This was so helpful! My daughter is exactly like this and weaning at 14 months has been slow going. She never took bottles at all so it has been breast only for 14 months. Thank you for all of the wonderful ideas of how to get nutrition into her diet without milk!