What Type of Milk Should My Toddler Drink?

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What should I know about choosing the right milk for my toddler?

  • Know what milk options are available
  • Learn the pros and cons of each milk option
  • How to make sure your toddler is getting the nutrition they need no matter the milk choice

The transition to milk at 1 year can be an exciting milestone. At 1 year, solid foods should be the main source of your little one’s nutrition.1,2 This means that your baby is relying less and less on infant formula and breastmilk.

Toddlers continue a steady rate of growth during their second year of life, with fat continuing to play an important role in brain development and with increasing nutrient needs, such as calcium, vitamin D, and other micronutrients.3 Whole cow’s milk is a valuable source of these needed nutrients.

Formula fed babies are encouraged to begin transitioning to milk at the 1-year mark, weaning from infant formula between 12 and 14 months.4, 5 Breastfed babies can continue drinking breastmilk for as long as mother and baby would like.6, 7

Should I choose a non-dairy milk for my toddler?

If your little one is allergic to cow’s milk, or you are vegan or vegetarian, there are certain things to take into consideration when choosing a cow’s milk alternative. Many of the non-dairy options are lower in protein, fat, and certain vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, and B12 – all of which cow’s milk is rich in, which is why cow’s milk is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. 8

Unsweetened, fortified soy milk is the only non-dairy milk alternative currently recommended by pediatric experts.8, 9, 10, 11

Read more: Dairy Sensitivities in Babies and Toddlers

What are the differences among cow’s milk and plant-based milk alternatives?

While there are an overwhelming amount of milk alternative options available to choose from, keep in mind that the only milk and milk alternative recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other pediatric experts are cow’s milk and soy milk.

Here are some common milks and non-dairy milk options available:

  • Whole cow’s milk
  • Breastmilk
  • Toddler formulas
  • Soy milk
  • Rice milk
  • Almond milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Goat’s milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Oat milk
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Recommended milk and milk alternatives

Whole Cow’s Milk – Whole cow’s milk, when included with a variety of foods, can help support the growth and development of children over 1 year of age. This type of milk is recommended as a replacement to baby formula at this age by the American Academy of Pediatrics.13 Per 8 ounces, whole cow’s milk is a quality source of calcium, protein, fat, phosphorous, Vitamin A, and Vitamin D.

For most children, whole cow’s milk is recommended until the child is 2 years old.

Read more: Why Calcium Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama

Breastmilk – The AAP recommends babies continue to breastfeed through their first birthday, while the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until at least age 2.7 If your toddler is still nursing 3-4 times a day, you do not need to add cow’s milk to his diet right at 12 months.

If you’re still breastfeeding, don’t stress about milk! Your toddler is doing just fine. However, if you are offering breastmilk in a bottle, try offering it in a cup. If your child is only nursing once or twice per day, then some cow’s milk may be needed.

Read more: What Are The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Soy Milk – Because soy milk is nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk, this is the only plant-based milk alternative recommended by pediatric experts. 8, 9, 10 For those with a sensitivity or allergy to dairy, soy milk provides adequate calories and protein for the growing toddler. Look for soy milk that is unsweetened and fortified with calcium and Vitamin D.

It is important to note that some children with cow’s milk protein allergy are also potentially allergic to soy, so soy milk and soy infant formulas are recommended for children only under specific circumstances.

Read more: Guidance on Raising a Child with Food Allergies

If you are concerned about this, feel free to discuss with baby’s doctor or a Happy Baby Expert. They’re here to help on our free live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST).  Chat now!

Toddler formula and other plant-based milk alternatives

While it can be tempting to use any plant-based milk in place of cow or soy milk, most of these options are lacking important nutrients your toddler needs, such as protein, fat, and calcium. It is not recommended that these replace cow’s milk or soy milk unless specifically directed by your pediatrician.

Toddler Formulas – The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization has expressed that toddler formulas are unnecessary and often contain excess sugar that is not needed.8, 9  Even if your little one is a little picky or still not eating all foods, this type of formula is not recommended. Think about them meeting their needs as an average throughout a week rather than daily. They are receiving nutrients from the food they eat and supplemental milk and this should be meeting their nutrition needs for growth and development.

Rice Milk – Children with allergies to both cow and soy milk or who follow vegetarian or vegan diets often turn to rice milk, but this might not the best choice for your growing toddler. Rice milk is lower in protein, fat, calories, vitamin and minerals than other dairy alternatives, and is also higher in sugar.14 If you choose to use rice milk, opt for unsweetened versions fortified with calcium and Vitamin D, and make sure your toddler’s diet includes other sources of protein and healthy fats.

Read more: Meeting Your Needs and Baby’s on a Vegetarian Diet

Almond Milk – Almond milk, like rice milk, is low in protein when compared to cow’s milk, but does have a bit more fat; on average, about the same as 1% cow’s milk or about 3 grams. If you choose to use almond milk, opt for unsweetened versions fortified with calcium and Vitamin D, and make sure your toddler’s diet contains other sources of protein and fats.

Hemp Milk – Unsweetened hemp milk has more fat than other plant based milks – about 6 to 7 grams per 8 ounces, which is just under the 8 grams in whole milk. But some hemp milks have only 1 gram of carbohydrates and only about 2 grams of protein. If you choose hemp milk, be sure it is fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and that your toddler’s diet has ample protein.

Goat’s Milk – While goat milk does contain more calcium, B6, vitamin A, and potassium than cow milk, it lacks folate, vitamin D, and B12.15 So if goat’s milk is your primary choice, it’s important to choose a brand fortified in these nutrients, or ensure that your little one is getting these nutrients through other foods.

Read more: Why Folate Matters for Babies, Tots, and Mama

Read more: Getting Enough Vitamin B12

Coconut Milk – Although coconut milk is higher in iron than cow’s milk, it provides fewer calories, protein, and vitamin D than some of the other non-dairy milks. 14  If you choose this for your little one, be sure to include additional sources of protein, healthy fats, vitamin D and calories in their diet.

Oat Milk – Like other plant-milks, many oat milk options are fortified with adequate calcium and vitamin D (but check to make sure!), however they contain much less protein than cow’s milk.16 Additionally, most oat milks have a lower amount of fat. Some have added oil to help boost fat content to about 3.5 grams, or a little more than 1% cow’s milk. If you choose oat milk for your little one, be sure it’s fortified with appropriate vitamins and minerals, is unsweetened, and that your toddler’s diet has adequate protein and fat.

How do I make sure my toddler is getting the nutrition they need?

How much milk should my toddler drink?

It’s important to remember that while your little one may have been on an all-milk or milk-heavy diet of formula and/or breastmilk before the age of 1 year, after the 1-year mark milk should be kept to 2 to 3 cups per day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends only 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of milk or milk-alternative per day.8

Read more: How Do I Switch my Little One To Milk?

Consult with your toddler’s healthcare provider

Your pediatrician knows your toddler’s nutrient needs well and can help provide guidance on which milk or milk alternative may work best.

If your baby has a dairy or soy sensitivity, speak to your toddler’s healthcare provider about which type of milk to introduce first. And don’t worry – many infants outgrow a milk or soy protein intolerance by their first birthday. You and your child’s pediatrician can form a plan of which soy and dairy products to re-introduce and the pros and cons of each type of milk.

Bottom Line

If you choose a non-dairy milk for your little one, soy milk is the recommended milk alternative for toddlers who are not able to drink cow’s milk.  Should soy milk not be medically advised, work with your pediatrician to determine which is the best option for your child; and aim for:

  • No sugar added. Sugar is often added to plants milks so read all labels. Beware of “Original” flavors as these often have sugar added; look specifically for “Unsweetened” claims instead, as well as unflavored.
  • Make sure the milk alternative is fortified with vitamin D and calcium.12

*Remember that without cow’s milk or soy milk, your toddler must have a diet with adequate protein, fat, vitamin D, and calcium – among other nutrients.

Read more: Minimizing Added Sugar

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Which Supplements or Vitamins should you be giving your toddler?

Feeding for Healthy Weight Gain in Babies and Toddlers

Meeting your Needs and Baby’s on a Vegan Diet

Is Your Baby or Toddler Adequately Hydrated?

Healthy Snacks for Babies and Toddlers

Avoiding Picky Eating

Why Vitamin D Matters for Babies, Tots, and Mama

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