Importance of Milk for Toddlers
While milk becomes less important after your baby's first birthday because your toddler is eating a wider variety of foods, it's still a good source of nutrients, including calcium. If you breast-feed, the World Health Organization recommends continuing until age 2. After 1 year, your toddler can switch from formula to whole milk. Toddlers need 2 cups of milk daily to meet their nutritional requirements for calcium and fats. Drinking too much milk can deter your toddler from eating other healthy foods. If your toddler has a milk allergy, you can meet his needs with other foods.
Milk and other dairy products provide the best source of dietary calcium, essential for healthy bone growth. A 1-cup serving of milk supplies 300 milligrams of calcium; toddlers need around 500 milligrams per day. Yogurt and cheese as well as calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice can meet your toddler's calcium needs as well as milk. Most children under age 5 get 70 percent of their calcium from milk, according to the Women's and Children's Health Network of Australia.
Fortified milk supplies vitamin D, which your toddler needs to help him absorb calcium. Toddlers who don't get enough vitamin D can develop rickets, thinning of the bones that can cause bowing and pain. Breast-fed babies who don't take vitamin D supplements after age 6 months are at risk for vitamin D deficiency, especially if they're dark-skinned, don't get adequate sunlight exposure or have moms who are deficient in vitamin D.
Toddlers need fats for optimal neurological growth. While you can change to whole milk any time after 1 year, do not feed your toddler low-fat milk. Whole milk is 4 percent fat, which toddlers between the age of 1 and 2 need. After age 2, you can feed your toddler low-fat milk. Don't give your young child skim or fat-free milk until age 5, the Women's and Children's Health Network of Australia recommends.
Certain toddlers can't drink any milk, but they can meet their nutritional needs for dietary calcium and fats in other ways. Two factors that can affect a toddler's milk intake are milk allergy and lactose intolerance. Around 2.5 percent of toddlers under age 3 have a milk allergy, according to the Stanford School of Medicine. Lactose intolerance occurs in people who lack the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar lactose. Lactose intolerance rarely occurs before age 2, Dr. Richard Grand of Children's Hospital Boston explains. A toddler with milk allergy or lactose intolerance can drink calcium-fortified soy milk or another alternative milk source. Juices fortified with calcium can help meet your toddler's calcium needs.
- KidsHealth from Nemours: Nutrition Guide for Toddlers
- Ask Dr. Sears: Does My Toddler Need Cow's Milk?
- National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: How much Calcium Do Kids Need?
- Women's and Child's Health Network: Milk for Toddlers
- Stanford School of Medicine: New Treatment May Desensitize Kids with Milk Allergies, Say Researchers at Stanford and Children's Hospital Boston
- Pediatric Views: Lactose Intolerance in Children
- The New York Times: Vitamin D Deficiency May Lurk in Babies
- Health.gov: Food Sources of Calcium
- World Health Organization: Exclusive Breastfeeding