Do babies have to drink cow milk?
Editor’s Note: This post was written during the outbreak of COVID-19 when there were milk and formula shortages. For a detailed look at the best milk and milk alternatives for babies and toddlers, hop over to our Milk FAQs.
If you run out of milk and your baby is 12 months or older, have no fear. There are fantastic options for short- and long-term consumption.
Unlike an infant, who depends on breast milk or formula for the first year of life, babies 12 months+ don’t technically need milk. At this age, milk is primarily for fat, calcium, and vitamin D, so if you are unable to get milk, focus on foods rich in these nutrients, such as eggs, yogurt, and cheese. (Our Meal Planner kit has a list of foods organized by nutrient that babies need lots of (e.g., iron, vitamin D, zinc, etc.) so if you want more detail, hop over to our website.
If your baby is normally drinking animal milk and you need an alternative, our first choices would be pea or soy milk. Pea milk (most commonly known by one brand name, Ripple is great because it doesn’t contain any common allergens (so you could move to it quickly if need be) and has a good amount of fat, protein, calcium, and vitamin D. Soy milk is similar and a great option. (Just make sure you’ve introduced soy and ruled out any allergy before handing over a big ole glass of it.)
Past pea and soy milk, there are a number of plant-based milks (almond, cashew, hemp, oat, etc.) though none quite offer the nutritional profile of pea or soy. (Oat milk is probably the closest.) And almond milk would probably come in last on our list of plant-based milks, as it is low in calories, low in protein, and low in fat. (In other words, great for adults but not so great for growing babies.) Regardless of the milk alternative you choose, just make sure you are buying one that is sugar-free / unsweetened as many plant-based milks have added sweeteners for taste.
Now toddler “formulas” such as Pediasure should only be regularly consumed if your pediatrician or nutritionist has recommended it for weight gain, as these drinks can have quite a bit of sugar and processed ingredients.
Lastly, limit milk consumption to less than 16oz per day for babies 12 months+ so it doesn’t replace needed calories and nutrition from solid food.