The milk roundup: Which milk is best for babies and toddlers?

a jar of milk with a blue straw for babies starting solids

Everything you need to know about milk and plant milk for babies and toddlers!

Excited to announce our long-awaited milk page is now here! Everything—and I mean everything—you need to know about cow’s milk, plant-based milks, breast milk, and formula is there. The new page also features a side-by-side comparison of mammalian and plant-based milks so you can choose what is right for you and your little one. 

Here’s a preview of some of the topics covered. (Source data and references are available on the milk page)

Do babies and toddlers really need cow milk?

No, though the American Academy of Pediatrics does recommend cow’s milk for toddlers 12 months and older as a source of essential fat and nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, vitamin A, and zinc. If your child is 12 months or older, meeting growth chart standards, without health concerns or allergies that may affect diet and eating a wide variety of fresh foods high in the aforementioned essential nutrients, cow’s milk (or any milk, plant-based or otherwise) may not be necessary. Not sure which foods are high in the nutrients cow’s milk offers? Use the filtering system on our free First Foods® database and select 4 or 5 stars as we factor those nutrients in when rating any given food. 

When can my baby drink cow milk? 

Most pediatric organizations recommend waiting until a baby’s first birthday to introduce cow’s milk (or any other ruminant milk) as the digestive systems of babies may not tolerate cow milk protein in large quantities well. It is our professional opinion, however, that around 11 months of age, it is okay to offer small sips of cow’s milk (about 1 ounce) in an open cup to encourage your baby’s drinking skills and to acclimate your child to the new taste. 

Can my baby outgrow a dairy allergy?

Yes! If your baby is allergic to dairy, be reassured that it is an allergy that often disappears with time. Research shows that the majority of children with cow’s milk allergy will outgrow it by age 6 and many babies with milder symptoms of milk protein allergy (which can show up as painless blood in stool) are able to successfully reintroduce cow’s milk as early as their first birthday, with the guidance of their doctors.1 2

What are the best plant-based milks for toddlers? Can toddlers drink almond milk?

From a standpoint of nutrition, fortified soy, pea, or oat milks are your best bet. Not all plant-based milks are created equal when it comes to nutritional value. Almond milk, for example, is surprisingly low in calories, protein and fat—three things your little one really needs to grow.

General consensus suggests waiting to serve plant-based milks as a drink until after a baby’s first birthday, though cooking foods with plant-based milks for your baby is perfectly fine.

When shopping for plant-based milks, read the labels. You want to select brands of plant-based milks that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, free of added sugars, low in preservatives, and offer similar protein and calorie content to cow’s milk. For a detailed side-by-side comparison of all plant-based milks, hop over to our new milk page.

  1. GiKids – Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy. (2020, February 26). GiKids. https://gikids.org/digestive-topics/cows-milk-protein-allergy/
  2. Wood, R. A., Sicherer, S. H., Vickery, B. P., Jones, S. M., Liu, A. H., Fleischer, D. M., Henning, A. K., Mayer, L., Burks, A. W., Grishin, A., Stablein, D., & Sampson, H. A. (2013). The natural history of milk allergy in an observational cohort. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 131(3), 805-812.e4. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2012.10.060
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