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Introducing Your Toddler to Whole Milk: Tips and Tricks

The time leading up to your little one’s first birthday is so exciting! Daily changes and development are peppered with major milestones that keep life interesting (to say the least). One of the many important milestones during this time is the transition from breast milk or formula to whole milk. As a pediatric dietitian, parents often ask me how to make this transition and why it is so important to wait until their child’s first birthday to make the big switch. These are both great, and important, questions.

Why We Love Milk

Full fat cow’s milk, or whole milk, can offer many important nutrients and vitamins for growing toddlers. It contains potassium, calcium, vitamin A, protein, carbohydrates and fat. Plus, almost all milk is fortified with vitamin D. These nutrients and vitamins can help build your toddler’s bones and teeth, regulate body functions, and promote muscle development. And the fat in whole milk is important for young toddlers’ brain development.

Why Wait Until They’re One?

Although these are great reasons to offer whole milk to toddlers, they are not so great for babies. Infants do not digest cow’s milk very well, and some nutrients in cow’s milk, like potassium, protein, chloride, and sodium, can be harmful to an infant’s kidneys because of the amounts that whole milk contains. So, it is best to offer breast milk or formula until their first birthday, in order to make sure that they are getting all of the important nutrients that their growing bodies need.

Tips for Making the Transition

  • Go cold turkey — Some toddlers respond well to the transition. Often, it just depends on how they react to change. If your little one is relatively adaptable, then you can simply pick a day after their first birthday and offer milk in their cup or bottle instead of breast milk or formula.
  • Alternate each feeding — Another method for introducing whole milk is to give your toddler a few portions of the breast milk or formula they’re used to throughout the day, and then follow it up with a couple of servings of whole milk between. Try it for a week or two to see if it seems to help your toddler, and if it does, gradually start substituting whole milk for breast milk or formula meals.
  • Mix them up — This may be the best course of action if your toddler has a particularly hard time with change. For a gradual shift, try blending whole milk with breast milk or formula. Mix 1-part whole milk to 3 parts breast milk or formula. Gradually increase the amount of whole milk while decreasing the amount of breast milk or formula over the course of several weeks until your little one is comfortable with the change.

There really isn’t a right or wrong way to switch to whole milk; it really depends on what works best for you and your little. Also, breastfeeding moms may prefer to continue offering breast milk instead of transitioning to whole milk right away. That’s totally okay! Breast milk is still extremely nutritious and continues to offer several beneficial nutrients and vitamins.

Tips for Making the Big Switch

When you make the change, here are a few more tips to consider that may help to make the transition a smooth one.

  • Experiment with a new, special cup. This may make your child more enthusiastic about the transition!
  • If your little one is used to having their breast milk or formula warmed, try doing the same when introducing whole milk. This may make the transition more comfortable.
  • Aim for 16 to 24 ounces of whole milk per day (which is about 2 to 3 cups per day). Any more than that could cause your child to lose out on other important nutrients from other foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and meats.
  • Be sure to keep an eye out for any signs of milk intolerance or allergic reactions. Symptoms may include diarrhea, skin rash, vomiting, abdominal pain and difficulty breathing. If any of these signs occur, contact your child’s health care provider immediately.
  • Once your toddler turns 2, you can then transition them to a lower fat milk, like 1%. After 24 months, your little one does not need the higher fat content as they did before.
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