toddler milk

What parents should know about “toddler milks”

Photo above by Tanaphong Toochinda via Unsplash

Have you wondered whether the drinks sold as “toddler milk” or “older infant formula” are something your child needs? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) was very clear in their recent report: Kids do not need these products, and toddler milk may even have a negative impact.

Toddler milks are heavily marketed products that claim to fill nutritional gaps for older babies and children up to age 3. But while the AAP report points out that “adequate nutrition in the early years is important for the developing brain,” toddler milk products don’t really help with that. The AAP describes them as “unregulated, unnecessary and nutritionally incomplete.”

The marketing for toddler milks often exploits parents’ worries that their children aren’t eating enough as they move out of the infant stage, says Dr. Joseph Aracri, assistant chair of AHN Pediatrics.

Around 1 to 2 years of age, “kids leave that infant phase where they’re just grabbing everything that’s on their highchair tray and putting it in their mouths,” Aracri says. “They’re becoming picky, and the only reason why they become picky is because they’re not as hungry as they used to be.”

Parents may worry during this stage their children aren’t eating enough.

“That’s where these ‘toddler formulas’ come in,” Aracri says. The marketing “preys on the parents being afraid that the kids aren’t getting enough. But one thing to remember is to feed your kid three good meals a day. If they eat, fine. If they don’t eat, wait till the next meal. You don’t need to backfill them. They’ll eat when they’re hungry, and your job is to provide them with a huge variety of different foods to eat.”

The key is offering kids real foods, rather than serving them toddler milks which are often filled with added sugars and sodium, and can cause toddlers to develop a hard-to-break desire for sweet drinks and foods.

According to AHN Pediatrics, one study found that more than 60 percent of caregivers for toddlers believed the toddler milks provided nutrition that children couldn’t get from other foods. But they’re actually giving kids added sugars that could cause problems as the child grows.

The AAP’s report is clear: Toddler milks, also called “older infant-young child formulas”  or OIYCFs, “are not nutritionally complete,” the AAP says. “For children consuming a diet of solid foods that provide sufficient iron and vitamin content, there is no advantage or need to consume OIYCFs.”

AHN’s message to Pittsburgh-area parents is just as clear: “The most important thing to know about these products,” Aracri says, “is they’re not necessary — absolutely not necessary.”