Introducing fresh Cows’ Milk to Toddlers

Breastmilk is recommended as the healthiest start for babies and provides the main source of nutrition for the first 12 months of life and it is recommended to continue to breastfeed with appropriate complementary foods until 12 months of age and beyond for as long as you and your child desire.

Introducing fresh pasteurised full-cream cows’ milk to toddlers as a drink, can be offered from 12 months of age. Some parents find this a challenging time, as some children can be resistant to change from infant formula.

Some parents may decide to do a hard switch from formula to fresh milk as soon as there little one turns one year of age. Other parents may take a more gradual approach and usually this can work better especially if your child is resistant to change. Fresh milk has a different texture, taste and even temperature to formula, so it’s no wonder some children are hesitant to make the change.

How to transition?

It is easier to make the transition from formula to fresh milk by slowly adding the milk to formula. To begin with, try mixing fresh milk with some formula at first. Then slowly shift the ratio until your little on is drinking all fresh milk. For example, you could offer a sippy cup with ¼ milk and ¾ formula. Offer this mix for about one week and then offer ½ formula and ½ milk for the following week. At around week three, you should be at ¾ fresh milk and ¼ formula, depending on the rate of your child’s acceptance.

The first bottle in the morning and the last bottle in the evening are usually the hardest ones to give up. So you may find it easier to change a feed in the middle of the day first, which you child will be least likely to miss.

What type of milk?

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends full-cream milk for children under two years of age, because children at this age need the higher fat content in milk to maintain normal weight gain and to help the body absorb nutrients. When your child turns two, you may decide to switch them to reduced-fat or non-fat milk.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand warns against giving ‘raw’ or unpasteurized milk. Without pasteurization, milk may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness.

How to prepare the milk?

Some little ones prefer their milk warm. Formula and breastmilk are warmer than fresh milk taken from the fridge so warming the milk can be one less thing to hurdle over.

Adding sugary flavouring powders or syrups is not recommended, as your child may never adjust to the flavours of plain milk once they have been introduced.

How much milk should my toddler have?

The NHMRC recommends toddlers should consume 1 ½ serves of dairy per day – including milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives. Dairy foods help to build strong bones and teeth, regulate blood coagulation and to assist muscle control. Dairy foods also provide protein for growth as well as carbohydrate to help meet your toddler’s energy requirements.

Offering more milk than this though, may result in your child not having enough room for the other nutritious foods. If your child is still thirsty, offer water as an alternative.

For examples of serve sizes refer to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

Should my toddler drink from a bottle or cup?

A feeding cup can be introduced at around six months, to teach babies the skill of sipping drinks from a cup. A feeding cup can be used instead of a bottle for feeding infant formula or expressed breast milk.

If you have a child with an easy going temperament who adapts well to change, you might like to make both changes at once. If you think that this will be too hard on your child, then change to fresh milk first and then get rid of the bottles later. Some parents all find it easier to make the transition by purchasing a ‘special’ cup for their child. That is a new colourful cup that your child will adore – perhaps with characters from their favourite movie. Make a big fuss over it to let them know this is a big deal and a special time. Read more here on how to transition from bottle to sippy cup.

Why can I not introduce cows’ milk until after 12 months of age?

For the first 12 months of your baby’s life, breastmilk or infant formula should be their main source of nutrition. There are several reasons to delay the introduction of cows’ milk until your baby reaches their first birthday. Firstly, babies cannot digest cows’ milk as completely or easily as breastmilk or formula. Cows’ milk also contains high concentrations of protein and minerals, which can have a negative effect on your baby’s immature kidneys. In addition, cows’ milk doesn’t have the right amounts of vitamins and minerals needed for growth and development, so it is necessary to wait until one year before you changeover from breastmilk or formula.

However, for babies over six months who are eating a varied diet of solid foods and do not have any family history of cows’ milk allergies or intolerance, you might like to introduce small amounts of regular cows’ milk into their diet with iron-fortified cereal or in cooking. This would, of course be in addition to their normal breastmilk or infant formula intake.

When would I use toddler milk drink?

Toddler milk drink is formula for toddlers over 12 months of age. Toddler milk drink can be used to supplement the normal diet of an active toddler from one to three years, when their dietary intake may be inadequate as it provides more vitamins and mineral than regular cows’ milk and can be a good addition in their diet. However if a toddler has a healthy, varied diet and is eating well, cows’ milk is all they may need.

What if my child has an allergy to cows’ milk?

If your child has an allergy to cows’ milk, best to consult your babies doctor as to what product to introduce after 12 months of age.

If your little one had cows’ milk based formula as a baby without any problems, you can rest assured that they’ll have no problems tolerating regular cows’ milk. Even babies who were exclusively breastfed for the first year can usually handle cows’ milk because they’ve been exposed to cows’ milk protein in their mother’s milk (unless their mother avoided all dairy).

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