The Nutrients in Cow's Milk Vs. Breast Milk Vs. Soy for Toddlers

The toddler years last from ages 1 to 3. During these years, especially the early years of toddlerhood, your child's diet will expand to include foods not encouraged in the first year of life.

A baby under age 1 should not drink cow's milk, because his stomach can't digest the proteins in cow's milk well.

Breast milk continues to provide the best nutrition after 1 year, but milk, no matter what type, no longer meets all your child's nutrition needs. Soy, like cow's milk, is one of the most common allergies in children.

Cow's Milk Nutrients

Cow's milk supplies a hefty dose of calcium to your toddler's diet. Many commercial milks also contain added vitamin D, necessary for calcium absorption. Although cow's milk is high in fat, don't give your toddler low-fat or nonfat milk until your pediatrician approves it. Small children need fats in their diet for proper brain development. Whole cow's milk supplies 146 calories per cup, with 8 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat, mostly saturated fat, 13 grams of carbohydrate and 8 grams of protein. Cow's milk does not supply dietary iron.

Cow's milk contains lactose, a milk sugar that many Americans, particularly those of African American, Native American or Mediterranean descent, can't digest because they don't produce the enzyme lactase.

Most children don't develop lactose intolerance before age 2, Dr. Richard Grant of Children's Hospital Boston explains. Symptoms include gas, bloating, abdominal cramping and diarrhea.

Breast Milk Nutrients

Milk with soy beans on white background

Importance of Milk for Toddlers

Learn More

Breast milk changes over time to adapt to your growing child's nutritional needs and also varies at different times of the day. Breast milk produced in the second year of nursing supplies around 38 percent of your toddler's protein needs, if he drinks around 500 milliliters per day, or around 17 ounces per day, lactation consultant Kelly Bonyata's website, KellyMom states.

Breast milk also contains immune factors that help protect your toddler against illness.

As he gets older and removes more milk from the breast at a time, the concentration of immune factors in breast milk increases. Breast milk contains more fat than cow's milk, including omega-3 fatty acids necessary for brain development.


Soy milk doesn't contain animal products, which might be important if you follow a vegetarian diet.

Some manufacturers add calcium and vitamin D to soy milk, which normally contains less calcium than cow's milk. However, soy contains phytates, substances that can interfere with calcium absorption.

Give your toddler foods or drinks high in vitamin C along with soy milk to aid in calcium absorption. Soy milk contains 100 calories per cup, with 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of sugar and 4 grams of fat, mostly unsaturated.


Milk with soy beans on white background

Can Babies Drink Silk Soy Milk?

Learn More

Both cow's milk and soy make the list of the eight most common food allergens, according to AS many as 50 percent of children with a milk allergy also react to soy, Nutricia Neocate reports. Breast milk, on the other hand, doesn't cause allergies, although your child could react to substances in your diet.

When you introduce cow's milk or soy milk into your child's diet, watch for signs of an allergic reaction. Symptoms could include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, rash or hives.

In some cases, more serious symptoms such as wheezing, difficulty breathing or facial swelling can occur. Seek immediate attention if your child has severe allergic symptoms; notify his pediatrician for less severe symptoms.