By Julia Wolman Registered Nutritionist
From the day your baby is born, it’s all about the milk. Are they feeding often enough? Should they be having more? Are they having too much?
After the first few months, when some semblance of routine is (finally) beginning to emerge, it’s time for something new – solids! To start with, milk feeds continue as usual whilst baby gets used to new tastes and textures. Some time between 6-12 months, when baby is eating plenty of solids several times a day, their milk feeds can gradually reduce both in quantity and frequency.
As your baby enters the toddler years, big milk feeds are no longer needed (at least not from a nutritional or developmental perspective). This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have any milk, far from it. Milk, whether from the breast, cow’s milk or a dairy alternative is an essential part of a healthy balanced diet, and it is recommended that breastfeeding should continue alongside complementary foods until two years and beyond.
How much milk do they need?
From 12 months, toddlers are recommended to have up to around 12oz or 350ml of milk per day to meet their calcium needs. This can be in the form of milk as a drink or added to foods (for example, in cereal, a white sauce or mashed potato), or from foods such as cheese or yogurt. A portion of milk as a drink for a toddler is 3-4oz, or 100-120mls. If you measure this out you’ll see it is not a lot! Generally speaking, if a child is having a small milk drink or some dairy three times a day they will meet their needs.
Does it matter if they have more?
Very often in my practice I meet parents whose children are having lots of milk in place of their meals. After all being a liquid, milk is easy to drink and requires far less effort than chewing down a meal! But unfortunately, excessive milk intake can contribute to a few nutritional problems.
Since milk has a calorie (energy) value, like other foods it can fill up a small stomach. Let’s think of a child’s body as a tank which needs a certain amount of energy each day. The tank doesn’t distinguish between liquid or solid energy, or whether it is given during the day or night, it just takes whatever it is given whenever it is given. Once the tank is full, its full. There’s no room left for the delicious meals you have prepared, and no amount of food games or coaxing will help either. Babies and young children (unlike adults) are usually very in tune with their internal hunger cues, in other words, they’re very good at not eating when they’re not hungry. When I work with parents of picky eaters, 8 times out of 10 we will look at reducing milk intake as a first strategy to improve appetite and interest in food.
At the other extreme I see children who are not only drinking large volumes of milk, but eating all their meals and snacks too. These children have learned to override their internal hunger cues and take in far more energy than their bodies need.
Babies and young children are vulnerable to iron deficiency and, at the extreme, iron deficiency anaemia (IDA). IDA can contribute to poor growth and cognitive development. If small stomachs fill up with lots of milk there can be little room for much else, displacing iron-rich foods from the diet.
[NB. Milk itself is not a good source of iron. Although breastmilk is low in iron, the iron that is present (as lactoferrin) is absorbed very efficiently. Whilst formula milks have iron added, it is in a form that is not well absorbed by the body. Cow’s milk contains very little iron and this is one of the reasons why it should not be given to babies as a main drink before 12 months].
Since 2003 Julia has worked for the NHS, other organisations and privately supporting parents who are concerned about their child’s diet or eating behaviour. For more information about Julia and how she could help you please visit www.juliawolman.co.uk. You can also find her at: facebook.com/TeenyTumies or on Instagram: jwnutrition.uk