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Ask The Pediatrician: Which Type Of Milk Is Best For Toddlers?

All different kinds of protein for toddlers including cow's milk, soy milk, almond milk yogurt and cheese.
Cow milk, almond milk, soy milk—oh my! Here’s how to understand the differences between all the types of milk out there.

Meet Dina DiMaggio, MD, and Anthony F. Porto MD, MPH, official spokespeople for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the co-authors of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers. Each month, they’ll write about the latest AAP guidelines, studies and seasonal issues affecting babies and toddlers. Follow them on Instagram @pediatriciansguide.

Since there are so many new ‘milks’ on the market, it is often confusing to know which is the best one to give a child. We are often asked by parents weaning baby off breast milk or formula which is the best milk to use after age one. Here we will discuss how much dairy is recommended for a toddler, the nutritional composition of milk alternatives and our picks for parents.

Dairy Recommendations For Your Toddler

Dairy provides fat, protein, vitamins and minerals for infants and young children. In infancy, the majority of calories come from breast milk or formula. At age one, dairy is still an important source of dietary fat, which continues to be important for brain development. From 1 to 2 years of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that toddlers consume two servings of dairy per day, which is the equivalent of 16 ounces of milk. Most children will continue on whole cow’s milk until age 2, but in some cases, the AAP recommends starting reduced-fat milk between 12 months and 2 years of age in children who are at risk of being overweight, or whose families have a history of obesity, heart disease or high cholesterol. From 2 to 3 years of age, approximately 2.5 servings of dairy is recommended daily and your child can switch to low-fat or nonfat milk.

Some children, however, may not drink any milk and this is still okay, especially if they consume good sources of calcium and vitamin D from other sources, including cheese and yogurt. In fact, many pediatricians do not want children to drink more than 16 to 20 ounces of milk a day, because milk can fill children up, preventing them from eating more nutritious foods. Additionally, too much milk consumption could also lead to iron deficiency (calcium blocks iron absorption) and subsequent anemia.

Dairy Serving Sizes

Milk: 8 ounces = 1 serving of dairy
Yogurt: 8 ounces = 1 serving of dairy
Cheese: 3 ounces = 1 serving of dairy
Shredded Cheese: ⅓ cup = 1 serving of dairy

*2 servings of dairy are recommended daily for children between age 1 and 2, while 2½ servings are recommended for children between ages 2 and 3.

The Rise In Milk Alternatives

Milk alternatives have become more popular over the past decade as some families choose to be dairy-free. Additionally, some children are allergic to milk protein. In both cases, milk alternatives…

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