How Do I Introduce Milk To My Toddler?

Read time: 5 minutes

What should I know about switching my baby to milk?

  • The transition to cow’s milk starts at 1 year of age
  • How much milk your toddler needs
  • How to help your little one begin to accept cow’s milk
  • What to do if your toddler is allergic to cow’s milk protein

Your baby is almost a toddler! This is an exciting time with lots of change. One big transition is that from formula or breastmilk to cow’s milk. Some little ones take to this change easily while others put up a bit of a fight, which can make this switch more of a challenge.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends introducing whole cow’s milk at 1 year of age.1  Dairy-containing foods such as yogurt and cheese can be introduced as early as 6 months, as well as small amounts of milk in baked goods, such as muffins, or a splash in scrambled eggs.2 However, cow’s milk should never be introduced as a beverage until your baby’s first birthday as the high concentration of proteins and minerals in cow’s milk can stress baby’s immature kidneys and may even cause iron-deficiency anemia (low iron).3

Why Cow’s Milk?

Whole cow’s milk contains protein, fat, vitamin D, calcium, and other nutrients that help meet your toddler’s needs. Since your little one is still getting used to solids and is transitioning from infant formula or breastmilk, cow’s milk is a way to help fill some gaps as your toddler gets better and better at eating a variety of foods.

Read more: What Type of Milk Should My Toddler Drink?

What type of cow’s milk should I provide my toddler?

Plain whole cow’s milk helps provide the fat needed for your toddler’s developing brain. Skim milk or nonfat milk should not be given to infants or toddlers under age 2 unless directed by your child’s healthcare provider.

Raw milk, or unpasteurized milk, should be avoided as it may carry harmful bacteria that could be life-threatening to your toddler.4

How much milk should my toddler drink?

Whole cow’s milk should not replace formula ounce for ounce. At this age your toddler is eating mostly solid foods to meet their nutrition and calorie needs; cow’s milk should only act as a supplement to this varied and well-balanced eating pattern.5,6

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 16 ounces of milk per day, with a maximum of 24 ounces. That’s just 2 to 3 (8-oz) cups per day.3

Research shows that toddlers who drink more than 24 ounces of cow’s milk a day have higher rates of iron deficiency because cow’s milk can interfere with the absorption of iron from other foods.7 Plus, too much milk and your toddler’s little belly will be too full to eat all the other nutritious foods you’re now providing throughout the day. 

While the fat in milk (and from other sources) is essential to brain development, toddlers gain a lot of calories, vitamins, and minerals from foods like proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. So 2 to 3 cups (16-24 ounces) of milk a day is all they need, as opposed to the 3 to 4 bottles of breastmilk or infant formula baby used to drink.

Should I use a cup or bottle?

Once your child is 1 year old, offer all liquids in a cup and not in a bottle. Begin presenting a cup with water at around 6 months of age to give your baby ample time to practice this new skill before their first birthday.1

Read more: The Pros and Cons of Cups, Sippy Cups, and Straws

What are some tips to help my toddler accept milk?

Experiment with milk temperature

If your little one is used to drinking warmed baby formula or room temperature breastmilk, then the switch to ice cold milk might be a tough transition. If necessary you can begin with warmed milk and slowly transition to cooler milk until your little one is happy drinking it right out of the fridge.8

Try mixing milk with infant formula or breastmilk

If the flavor change to milk is too drastic for your toddler, try adding a few ounces of breastmilk or baby formula to an ounce or two of whole cow’s milk or non-dairy milk. As your toddler becomes more comfortable, slowly decrease the percentage of baby formula or breastmilk until you are offering only milk.

*Note that the American Academy of Pediatrics only recommends cow’s milk or soy milk as appropriate milks for toddlers. Other plant-based milks have lower amounts of protein, often are too low in fat, and many are not fortified in calcium and vitamin D.

Ease the transition as necessary by working milk into foods your child likes

If your little one isn’t taking to milk very quickly, try incorporating it into fresh fruit smoothies, hot whole grain cereals (use milk instead of water for cooking), beat into scrambled eggs and omelets and mash with sweet or regular potatoes.

You can also provide other dairy-based foods such as yogurt and cheese to help meet your little one’s needs.2 While these foods will help provide protein and calcium, they are often not fortified in vitamin D.

Continue offering other foods rich in calcium

Offer plenty of cheese, plain yogurt, cottage cheese, beans, seafood, tofu, and enriched breads and cereals.9 While calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice is available in stores, limit your toddler’s juice intake to no more than 4-6 ounces per day, if at all.1

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

Read more: Why Vitamin D Matters for Babies, Tots, and Mama

What if your family doesn’t eat dairy or your child has an allergy?

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other pediatric experts recommend soy milk as the only acceptable plant-based milk alternative because it is the only plant based milk that is nutritionally equivalent to whole cow’s milk. 10, 11, 12

If your little one has an allergy to soy and cow’s milk, consult with your toddler’s health care provider on how to meet your little one’s needs. 

Learn more: What Type of Milk Should My Toddler Drink?

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!

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