Up until your baby’s first birthday, her little digestive system simply can’t handle any drinks other than breastmilk, formula or water. Once she’s older, she’s ready to transition from formula and to be introduced to milk—whether that’s cow’s milk or a nondairy alternative.
Cow’s milk is a great source of the bone-building nutrients your little one needs, such as calcium and vitamin D. Cow’s milk also provides other important nutrients your child needs for healthy growth and development, such as protein and fat. However, drinking too much cow’s milk can fill your child up, causing him to eat less during mealtimes. Along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, we recommend serving milk at mealtimes only (and water in between) and limiting your toddler’s milk intake to 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) per day.
Between the ages of 1 and 2, plain whole milk is best. When your toddler turns 2 years old, we recommend switching from whole milk to 1% milk (low-fat). Some parents find it helpful to transition from whole milk to 2% milk for a few weeks before moving on to 1% milk, and that’s OK too.
Stick to plain cow’s milk. Flavored milks, such as chocolate, vanilla or strawberry milk, have a lot of added sugars your child simply doesn’t need. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends no added sugars for children under the age of 2. Plus, offering your child flavored milk now may make it harder for him to accept plain milk later on.
If your child has a dairy allergy, it is recommended that she avoid cow’s milk and foods that contain dairy, such as cheese and yogurt. In place of cow’s milk, your pediatrician may recommend a milk substitute, such as soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D. As with cow’s milk, we recommend choosing plain options to avoid the added sugars.
Cow’s milk substitutes (almond, soy, coconut, hemp and rice milks) typically lack the nutrients your child needs, such as protein, and they often contain added sugars. If you choose to serve almond milk or other cow’s milk substitutes, look for plain options that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and talk to your pediatrician to make sure your child is getting all her nutrients.