The ads about toddler milk are compelling, maybe even a little scary.
That and so-called “toddler formula” is “designed to help support your little one’s growth.” They claim to provide “nutrients toddlers might not get enough of,” including those supporting crucial brain development.
In reality, such products are a “complete unknown,” according to Dr. Susanna Block, a Seattle pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente. “We don’t know what’s in them,” because, unlike infant formula, these products are not regulated by the FDA.
The arrival of these costly products, with their pitches playing to parents’ concerns, prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue a clinical report stating that toddler milks and formulas provide no nutritional advantage.
“Save your money. Buy food,” Dr. Block says.
What to give instead of toddler milk
While we had her on the line, we asked Dr. Block to go over pediatricians’ general advice involving babies, kids, milk and food. It’s a great refresher, even if you think you already know all of it:
Birth to one year: Give primarily breast milk or infant formula.
Ages 1-2: Switch to whole cows’ milk. At this point, a child should be eating a variety of foods after starting with purees. Around the first birthday is also “a great time to go from bottle to sippy cup,” Dr. Block says. Continuing on a bottle for too long can raise the risk of tooth decay. Plus, “Kids want to do it anyway,” she says of the switch.
After age 2: Switch to low-fat or nonfat milk.
Exceptions: Kids with allergies or special nutritional needs. Those families should consult their practitioner to determine the best alternatives.
Kids and milk: how much?
Dr. Block says 1- and 2-year-olds can have up to 16 ounces (2 cups) of milk per day. From ages 2 to 5, that can increase to 24 ounces.
Is there such thing as “too much” milk? There can be, Dr. Block said. It’s possible that a milk-adoring child will fill up on it and then not get enough other foods. Her advice? Give them milk after the meal.
Conversely, what about a kid who turns up their nose at milk? The key is to make sure they’re staying hydrated and getting enough calcium, protein and Vitamin D. Foods such as yogurt and cheese can help.
As for juice, soda pop and other sweet drinks: These should not be given daily but perhaps reserved for special occasions, Dr. Block says: “And never in a bottle.”
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