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Milk. It’s all your infant has known for their first few months of life. But what happens when your baby is suddenly a toddler? Here’s what you need to know about toddlers and milk.
Why give toddlers milk?
Milk can be an important part of your child’s diet. It’s a good source of calcium and phosphorus, which are needed for healthy teeth and bone development. Milk also provides good amounts of protein, fat, B vitamins and energy to help children grow. However, like with most things in life, moderation is the key.
What happens when toddlers drink too much milk?
Drinking too much milk can cause an imbalance in three ways: firstly, it is high in energy (calories); secondly, it contains a lot of calcium; and thirdly it contains little fibre.
This means too much could lead to:
- your child filling up on milk (because of the high-fat content) and therefore having less appetite for other foods they need.
- your child having difficulty absorbing iron and therefore reduced iron stores (because excessive calcium can interfere with iron absorption).
- your child developing constipation, because milk is replacing foods that contain more fibre.
For children over the age of 12 months, solid foods should become the main source of nutrition. This allows your child to become accustomed to a healthy and varied diet, like what the rest of the family eats.
How much milk does my toddler need?
According to the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, babies shouldn’t have cow’s milk until they are 12 months old. They can’t digest it as easily as breastmilk or formula and it isn’t nutritionally adequate for a young baby’s development.
For toddlers over 12 months, they advise limiting the intake of cow’s milk to no more than 500ml (2 cups) in 24 hours. Water should be the main drink from 12 months.
For good nutrition, toddlers need at least 1½ serves of dairy foods per day. They also have specific requirements for calcium.
|Recommended dietary intake (RDI) of calcium for children|
|Age group (years)||Calcium (mg/day)|
|1 – 3||500|
|4 – 8||700|
One serve of dairy is equal to:
- 1 cup (250ml) of milk
- 200g of yoghurt or custard
- 2 slices (40g) of cheese
One cup of full-fat milk (250ml) has 295mg of calcium. So, just two cups of milk (500ml) is more than enough to meet dietary recommendations for calcium in children aged one to three.
If your child drinks this amount of milk and has other calcium-rich foods (such as cheese or yoghurt) they may be exceeding their calcium needs.
What type of milk should I give my toddler?
Toddlers less than two years of age should have full cream milk. After two years of age, children can drink either full fat or reduced-fat milk with the rest of the family.
Toddler formula milk is usually not needed. There have been no studies showing it has any advantages over cow’s milk. The protein, fat, carbohydrate and calcium in toddler formula have no clearly established superiority over cow’s milk when it’s provided together with appropriate solid foods.
A toddler who is eating from all the food groups does not need to drink toddler milk.
Soy (except fortified soy products and soy formula where specifically indicated), and other milk substitutes (such as goat’s or sheep’s milk, coconut milk and almond milk) are not appropriate for children under two.
Rice and oat milk can be used after 12 months, provided they are a full-fat, fortified variety (with at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml). These products should be used under supervisions from a health professional. Other forms of protein and vitamin B12 must also be included in the diet.
When should I start using a cup instead of a bottle?
Children who drink from a bottle for too long have a higher chance of tooth decay. It is common in toddlers who suck on or fall asleep with bottles of milk, cordial or juice
Using a bottle too much may also reduce their appetite for food. When your child starts drinking cow’s milk at 12 months of age, wean them from the bottle and encourage them to drink from a cup.
Beyond milk for calcium
Calcium is found in an extensive range of foods. While dairy foods provide calcium in a form that’s easy to absorb, there are a variety of calcium-rich foods to suit different needs and preferences.
The following are examples of other calcium-rich foods that children might consume over a day:
- Half a cup of baked beans has 40mg of calcium
- 50g of tinned salmon (in water, drained and bones crushed) has 155mg
- 30g of cheddar cheese has 255mg
- 200g of plain yoghurt has 342mg
- 100ml of a calcium-enriched soy beverage can have up to 300mg of calcium.
Good nutrition is vital for healthy and growing kids. Do you have concerns about your child’s diet or eating patterns? Our paediatric dietitians can help.
For more information and helpful ideas, visit the dietetics page on our website, or contact the early intervention team on 1800 436 436.
- Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013) https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-dietary-guidelines
- NHMRC ‘Nutrient reference values’ for Australia and New Zealand. National Health and Medical Research Council (2006). https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/nutrient-reference-values-australia-and-new-zealand-including-recommended-dietary-intakes
- Women’s and Children’s Health Network (WCHN), South Australia Health. ‘Tucker for Toddlers’ (2014) http://www.wch.sa.gov.au/services/az/other/nutrition/documents/Tucker_for_Toddlers_Edition2_2014.pdf