How much milk should your toddler drink in a day? Find out the recommended amounts for 1- and 2-year-olds, plus what to do if your toddler is drinking too much milk.
Once your little one reaches their first birthday, it’s okay to give them milk to drink. In fact, unflavored milk and water should be the only drinks toddlers have (in addition to breastmilk, if you’re continuing to breastfeed).
Cow’s milk supplies protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, healthy fats, and more. But cow’s milk can also be filling – and it’s possible to give your child too much milk.
How much milk should your toddler drink in a day? Find out the answers below.
How much milk to give a 1-year-old?
Milk is not recommended as a drink for babies under 12 months of age, because it could cause baby to not get enough breastmilk or formula (their primary source of nutrients). But once your little one reaches their first birthday, you can start to give them cow’s milk to drink.
If you’re transitioning your child from formula to cow’s milk, check out our tips.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 1-year-olds should have between 14 and 16 ounces of milk per day – around 2 cups. Don’t give your child more than 2 cups per day.
To encourage cup use and healthy drinking habits, only offer milk in an open cup. If your child is using a sippy cup, they should start transitioning away from the sippy cup around their first birthday anyway. Your little one should be drinking from an open cup on their own before or around their second birthday.
Whole, unflavored cow’s milk is the best kind of milk for 1-year-olds, and is the kind of milk that the USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend offering when you first start giving your little one cow’s milk. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, giving low-fat milk too early could actually increase a child’s risk for obesity later in life, if they have a family history of heart disease or obesity.
Stay away from flavored milks, as they are high in sugar. “Toddler formulas” and “toddler milk drinks” should be avoided as well. These “toddler milks” don't add anything beneficial to your little one's diet that your child can't access in other ways. Plus, “toddler milks” are sometimes sweetened – and children under 2 years old shouldn’t have any added sugar.
How much milk to give a 2-year-old?
2-year-olds can have a bit more cow’s milk than 1-year-olds. The USDA recommends giving your 2-year-old 2 to 2 ½ cups of milk per day – that’s 16-20 ounces. Don’t give your child more than 2 ½ cups daily.
Keep offering milk in an open cup only. Your little one should be drinking from an open cup on their own before or around their second birthday.
The best kind of milk for 2-year-olds is unflavored low-fat milk (1% milk) or non-fat milk (skim milk), so start transitioning your little one from whole milk to the lower-fat milk around your child’s second birthday.
Continue to stay away from flavored milks, as they are high in sugar. And continue to avoid “toddler formulas” and “toddler milk drinks.”
What if my toddler can’t have cow’s milk?
Cow’s milk is the best option for most toddlers, as it’s the most nutrient-packed. But if your little one has a cow’s milk allergy or intolerance (and doesn’t have a soy allergy), you can give them fortified soy milk instead. Soy milk naturally has lots of protein and potassium. And fortified soy milk has added calcium and vitamin D, in similar amounts to cow’s milk. Be sure to choose unsweetened soy milk – soy milk with no added sugar.
Generally, steer clear of other plant-based milks like almond milk and oat milk. They usually aren’t as high in protein as soy milk is, and most aren’t fortified with calcium and vitamin D. So, they aren’t the best options for toddlers.
What could happen if my toddler has too much milk?
If your toddler drinks too much milk, they may not have an appetite for nutritious meals. Milk is very filling. Taking in too many calories in milk means there will be less space for your child to eat other foods. After all, toddlers’ stomachs are still very small. This can cause your child to not eat a balanced diet, because they’ll get full more quickly. Even though milk has several essential nutrients, a toddler can’t get all the nutrients they need – or nutrients in the right amounts – if they fill up on milk.
Too much milk could also cause constipation, even in children who don’t have a milk intolerance. This is because milk doesn’t contain much fiber, and fiber helps promote regular bowel movements.
And since milk is low in iron, toddlers could be at risk for iron deficiency anemia if they drink too much milk, because the milk could push iron-rich foods out of their diet.
If your child eats a balanced diet but still drinks too much whole milk, they’re probably getting too many calories. This could increase their risk of obesity later in life, especially if they’re drinking whole milk after their second birthday. Toddlers usually only need between 1,000 and 1,400 calories per day. If they drink an extra 12 ounces of milk, that’s around 220 calories extra, and if they drink an extra 28 ounces of milk, that’s over 500 extra calories.
How to reduce a child’s milk intake if they’re drinking too much milk?
If your child is eating a balanced diet, it’s perfectly fine for them to drink the recommended amounts of milk. But what if your child wants to fill up on milk, and ends up drinking more than the recommended amounts?
An easy way to regulate milk intake is to give your child milk only at meals. If your child needs something to drink outside of mealtimes, give them water (or provide a breastmilk “snack” if you’ve chosen to keep breastfeeding).
Giving your child a lot of healthy meal and snack options might work as well, because this might encourage your child to eat rather than drink their calories.
Your little one might also be drinking too much milk because they’d rather keep moving and playing. It takes a lot less time to drink milk than eat food, so your little one might prefer the milk because they can leave the table sooner. If you see this happening, limit the milk you give at the next meal to just a small amount, and offer a variety of foods to choose from. And if your child drinks all the milk, switch to water for their next meals. Only offer milk after the meals, if you do at all.
And remember – low-fat milk contains a lot fewer calories than whole milk. If your toddler is old enough, switching to low-fat milk means that they’ll consume fewer milk calories, even if they drink a little more than the recommended amount.
Finally, one of the best ways to encourage healthy eating habits is by modeling them. It’s no different with your drink intake. If your toddler sees you eating a lot of healthy foods – and not filling up on milk and sugary drinks – they’ll be more likely to do the same.
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