Ready for MILK?!?

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When do I start introducing milk…and how many ounces does my baby need?  

The questions of when to introduce milk, which milk(s) to offer baby, and how much baby needs to drink were asked by many of the moms in my 8-15 month new moms groups.  I’ve done a little research..and have my own experiences to draw from…and hope the information below is useful to all.

When do I introduce cow’s milk?

There is no reason to introduce milk before the age of one.  Don’t rush ahead and start months earlier in hopes of making the transition smoother.  Younger babies cannot handle the extra minerals, protein, and sodium present in cow’s milk.  If, at age one, your child isn’t a big fan of the milk, you can mix it with breast milk or formula…or put it in cereals, solids, etc.  There are also milk alternatives you can try if cow’s milk isn’t a success (see below).  But remember, the milk is just a drink.  Don’t stress it too much.

How much milk should my toddler drink?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most kids will get enough calcium and vitamin D if they drink 16 to 20 ounces (2 to 2 1/2 cups) of milk a day.  The main reason why babies are encouraged to drink 16 ounces of milk is because it’s an easy way to get calcium, protein, healthy fats, and vitamin D.  You can also get those nutrients from foods!   Of course, you can continue to breastfeed your child beyond the age of one (lots of nutrients!), but formula is not necessary.  Remember: milk is just a beverage now, not the main course.  

The AAP recommends whole milk for 1-year-olds unless they’re at high risk for obesity.  Once your child turns 2, you may switch her/him to a reduced-fat or nonfat milk as long as s/he’s growing well.  Offer 3 cups of whole milk a day ~ ideally a sippy cup at each meal.  It’s advised that baby not have access to cups of milk all day; you should offer water between meals.  It’s important that your child eat a well balanced diet and drink some water too; so don’t offer so much milk that your babe is filled up.

Your child doesn’t love milk?  There are other ways for your child to get the calcium and vitamins needed to grow strong.  Try offering calcium rich foods like  yogurt, cottage cheese, pudding, custard, or shakes for snacks. You can even make soups with milk (rather than water) and add a milk-based sauce or gravy to casseroles.

What are the alternatives to cow’s milk?

If your child has lip swelling, hives, vomiting, or blood in stools s/he may have a milk allergy.  Babies who are intolerant to milk may have symptoms such as bloating, gas, or loose stools. Intolerance is caused by an inability to digest lactose into simple sugar.  If  your baby has a milk allergy or is lactose intolerant, fear not – there are alternatives to cow’s milk readily available.

Some families offer goat’s milk as a supplement to breast milk (note: talk to your pediatrician before using goat’s milk as a supplement) so perhaps it’d be a good first milk to introduce.  Goat’s milk is easier to digest than cows milk, more like human milk, contains less lactose, and is less likely to cause an allergic reaction.  However, this is not our only alternative to cow’s milk; there are also coconut, almond, rice, soy, and hemp milks to consider!  I really love this article which identifies plant based and animal based “alterna-milks” and what each has to offer.  And, as the author states,

For healthy toddlers, milk is just a drink. It is no longer a exclusive source of daily nutrition. In a society that typically drinks too many unnecessary calories; it is preferred that children develop a preference for low-fat, low-calorie, unsweetened beverages. So, regardless of the type you choose for your family, feel confident that milk is a great choice to partner with a plate of healthy food at every meal.

This chart below might be useful in comparing alterna-milks.

milk comparison

Parents have a lot of options…which can be GREAT, but it can feel OVERWHELMING at the same time.  You need to do what is right for your own family.  Offering your child a well-balanced diet, rich with fruits, veggies, proteins, healthy fats, and vitamins is most important.  Milk, an easy source of calcium & vitamin D, is just a drink that need not cause you anxiety.  As always, if your child is happy, growing, reaching developmental milestones, pooping, and playing…your child is most likely getting exactly what s/he needs!

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