Have you ever wondered if your toddler is drinking too much milk? The recommendation is for toddlers to drink 16 oz of milk a day, but what happens if your toddler is drinking more than that? Can they really drink too much milk? Should you be worried?
This is a question that frequently comes up for parents. I hate to use the term “bad” when it comes to anything related to food, but there are definitely some nutritional concerns to consider when toddlers drink too much milk.
If you follow me on Instagram or have read some of my other blog posts, you’ll know that I am constantly talking about iron for babies and toddlers. It’s one of the most important nutrients for them. And unfortunately, toddlers are at a pretty high risk for iron deficiency. 7% of toddlers age 1-2 in the US are iron deficient (Source). Iron deficiency can have irreversible effects on kids when not treated and can impair everything from cognitive development to their immune system. In other words, iron is a big deal!
The calcium in milk can impair iron absorption in our bodies when eaten in excess. We used to think that the biggest concern was consuming calcium-rich foods at the same meal as iron-rich foods. More recent research is showing that the bigger concern is the overall amount of calcium consumed in a diet. In other words, drinking significantly more than 16 oz of milk a day can be a major concern for iron absorption. But you don’t need to worry as much about what specific foods and meals milk is given with throughout the day. (Source)
Diets high in milk and other dairy products like cheese can cause constipation in toddlers. Limiting milk to the 16 oz recommended can help to resolve constipation.
For some children, constipation is also how a cow’s milk allergy manifests, even when there are no other symptoms. And while simply limiting milk to 16 oz in this case will not solve the problem, it is something to keep in mind if your child is suffering from chronic constipation without relief.
This can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, one of the reasons milk is recommended for kids is because it is an easy source of concentrated calories. Many toddlers, especially between the ages of 1 and 2, need those easy to get calories as they transition from a primarily liquid diet to one that is primarily solid foods.
On the other hand, drinking too many calories means that there is less room for foods. Milk is not a good source of nutrients including iron, fiber, and many vitamins and minerals. As I’ve already mentioned, milk can also have a negative effect on the absorption of some of these nutrients (like iron) when consumed in excess. By drinking too much milk, your child will not have enough room for the important foods that they need in their diet!
For some children, drinking milk in excess of 16 oz can often be a result of not wanting to eat a lot of foods. Understandably, parents assume that any calories in this case are better than none, and give extra milk to make up for food not being eaten. But unfortunately, this can just exacerbate the problem. It often leads to even less being eaten, and a reliance on easy calories from milk instead of learning to like different textures and flavors in food.
The overwhelming concern that nutrition professionals like myself have with too much milk is that it displaces other foods in your child’s diet. From a nutrition standpoint, this puts them at risk for nutritional deficiencies. And from a behavioral standpoint, it teaches them to be reliant on easy calories they can drink instead of learning to like all the different kinds of foods out there.
It is so vital, especially in the baby and toddler years, to introduce variety to your child’s diet. Exposing them to different flavors, textures, and foods in general is one of the best ways that you can help them to have a healthy and nutritious diet throughout their life. This is the case even if your child doesn’t actually consume a large amount of the foods you’re offering. The act of offering the food itself is the important thing.
While having too much milk isn’t great, having up to 16 oz a day is actually beneficial for most children! Toddler drinks can be full of added sugars and other things lacking in nutrients. Milk is one drink that (in moderation) is actually beneficial for their diet. The other one is water.
If your child is allergic to milk, won’t drink it, or you have other concerns with it, there are a handful of other options that can be offered to toddlers. Unfortunately most of the plant-based milks out there are not suitable alternatives to meet the needs of your toddler. For a full breakdown of the nutritional composition of milks and which one to choose for your family, including breast milk, cow’s milk, and many plant-based milks, head here.
And if you are looking to expand the variety in your child’s diet, be sure to grab a copy of the Grow Baby Grow eBook which breaks down all of the important nutrients and shows you the best food sources of them across all of the different food groups. It’s your cheat sheet to all the foods to incorporate into your child’s diet to get them all the nutrients they need!
The all new ebook designed to help you feed your child a nutrient-rich, varied diet! You'll learn all the nutrients that are important in the first two years of your child's life, what the best foods are to get those nutrients in, and how you can serve a varied diet to ensure you are meeting all of their needs!
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