Nutrition for Nursing Toddlers

While most research on toddler nutrition has focused on children between the ages of 1 and 4 who have stopped breast-feeding or never been breast-fed, many modern toddlers still receive some of their nutrition and calories from breast milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding your child for a minimum of one year and encourages continuing for as long as the mother and child want to, and the World Health Organization recommends a minimum of two years of breast-feeding and continuation of breast-feeding for as long as both mother and child want to. For a nursing toddler, breast milk is not only a source of comfort and immunological factors; it can also make up a significant part of his overall caloric and nutrient intake.

Caloric Needs

A toddler typically needs between 1,000 and 1,400 calories each day, depending on how active he is and where he falls on the height and weight charts. The rate of growth at this age is a much better indicator of overall nutritional status than the specific amount of food your child eats, so as long as his growth curve remains steady, you can rest assured that he is getting enough food. Some toddlers continue to get the majority of their calories and nutrients from breast milk into their second year of life.

Breast Milk Nutrition

child drinking milk from bottle

A Toddler's Required Caloric Intake

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One huge benefit of continuing to nurse through toddlerhood is the nutritional boost that it gives your child. Breast milk can help make up for any deficiencies that might otherwise be a problem for picky eaters. Breast milk also contains high levels of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins A and C as well as immunological factors and enzymes that help your toddler's digestion.

Complementary Foods

When feeding a nursing toddler, offering a variety of healthy food options is more important than ensuring that he eats all of the food you put in front of him. For a 2-year-old child, this means offering about 1 cup of vegetables, 1 cup of fruit, 3 ounces of whole grains and 2 ounces of meat or beans each day spread out between three meals and two to three snacks. Do not expect your child to consume all of this food because he is also getting calories and nutrients from your milk. A breast-fed toddler who nurses at least three to four times per day does not need to consume cow's milk because he gets the necessary calcium, protein and fat from breast milk. If you do choose to offer cow's milk, limit your child's intake to 16 to 24 ounces per day because higher amounts can increase the risk of an iron deficiency.


child drinking milk from bottle

Toddlers and Too Much Protein

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Because breast milk is low in iron and vitamin D, these two nutrients may be of particular concern to mothers with nursing toddlers. Talk to your child's pediatrician about whether you need to give your toddler iron or vitamin D supplements or whether his intake of these nutrients from complementary foods is sufficient for his needs. If your child eats plenty of high-iron foods, such as:

  • red meat
  • spinach
  • oatmeal
  • lentils
  • beans
  • he may not need additional iron

Similarly, the vitamin D in fortified cow's milk, juices or cereals may be enough to provide for all of his vitamin D needs. Vitamin D is also produced in the skin when your child gets sun exposure, so if he spends at least 15 minutes playing outside at least three days a week, he may produce enough vitamin D to supply all of his needs.