Do Babies Need Milk After 12 Months?

do babies need milk after 12 months?

There’s no doubt about it: milk is a major mainstay in the American diet. It’s considered an essential source of protein, iron, calcium and vitamin D. Pediatricians, who unfortunately aren’t taught about nutrition in medical school, recommend 12-20 ounces of whole milk per day to a baby who has weaned off of breast milk or formula. Why? Because, according to the National Dairy Council, it’s the only way our little ones can get proper amounts of calcium, minerals, and fat calories.

But over the last decade, there has been a huge growth in the number of authorities who advise against dairy for babies… so what’s the real deal, anyway? And what about those with milk allergies? Are those sweet little babes doomed to a state of malnutrition? If your child is allergic to milk, or it’s your personal choice not to give milk to your child, let the worrying stop here. There are many options that will provide even more optimal amounts of these nutrients than cow’s milk.

Before I get into this, I need to first say that the best alternative to dairy milk for babies is breast milk. Breastfeed as long as possible, and as you wean, look for ways to get great nutrients without using dairy.

How to Get Calcium Without Dairy

Children ages 1-10 need approximately 600-800 mg of calcium per day. 1 cup of milk provides 180 mg, but many experts say only 20% of this can be absorbed by the body. Let’s see how milk stacks up against non-dairy alternatives, whose calcium has a much higher absorption rate in the body:

1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice:  300 mg
1 oz sesame seeds: 280 mg
3 oz salmon: 180 mg
1/2 cup collard greens: 180 mg
1/2 cup rhubarb: 174 mg 
1/2 cup spinach: 130 mg
1/2 calcium-fortified cereal: 100-200 mg
1/2 cup kale: 90 mg
1/2 cup cooked beans: 75 mg
1 medium orange: 50 mg
1/2 cup broccoli: 47 

So, what to feed a 1 year old? Fruits and veggies can be lightly steamed, pureed in the blender, and frozen into baby food trays to save money and give your baby higher quality baby food than you can get at the store. Sesame seeds can be stirred into purees, yogurts, applesauce, etc. I’m sure you won’t have any problem getting them to drink fresh orange juice or eat organic, low-sugar cereal as a snack 😉  By the way, the above list is by no means comprehensive. I just wanted to give you a few good examples of foods with good calcium sources, to illustrate just how easy it is to get calcium in your diet without excessive dairy intake.

Note: Please do not substitute soy milk for cow’s milk in your child’s diet. Some soy foods are appropriate (in their natural and fermented form: edamame, tempeh, tofu in moderation) but soy milk, soy protein powder, soy energy bars, etc are processed in such a way that they mimic estrogen in your body, which is especially harmful to children.

How to Get Enough Fat Without Dairy

Because they grow so quickly, small children need a lot of calories relative to their size, and plenty of healthy fats for immune system and brain development.

I know so many of us moms get concerned that our young child isn’t eating enough, because kids so often have weird appetite fluctuations, eating hardly anything for a few meals, then scarfing down a ton of food at the next meal. Because of this, frequent meals that have high nutrient and caloric density are important. 

You can increase calories and healthy fats in many ways. Organic extra virgin olive oil can be added to mashed lentils or beans, or even to mashed potatoes. Coconut oil can be added to mashed sweet potatoes or melted over cooked root vegetables like carrots and squashes. Nut and seed purees can also add very healthy fats… tahini (sesame seed butter) and smooth almond butter are good options.  (Whole nuts should be avoided until the age of 5, because of the risk of choking.) These are all examples of healthy essential fats. The fat content in cow’s milk is almost completely saturated fat, which is not an essential fat needed by the body.

The idea that a baby MUST wean from breast milk or formula straight to cow’s milk is a fallacy. Cow’s milk is molecularly very different than human milk. The protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and essential fatty acids are digested differently. Early feeding of human babies on cow’s milk is known to increase the likelihood of developing a cow’s milk allergy, which affects 1 in 10 babies now. Common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, colic, eczema, hives, bronchitis, asthma, ear infections, and sleeplessness. If your baby has 2 or 3 of these symptoms, there’s a good chance it’s a milk sensitivity. The easiest way to confirm this without invasive testing is to take your child off milk for 2 weeks and pay close attention to disappearing symptoms.

Good dairy alternatives are almond milk, other nut milks, coconut milk, etc. Your baby doesn’t need 20 ounces of these per day, but they’re okay for drinking or adding to meals when you would otherwise add dairy. Once your baby is 12 months old, her liquid intake can come from breast milk, clean water, fresh juices, or alternative milks.

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23 thoughts on “Do Babies Need Milk After 12 Months?

  • Tara

    Hi McKenna- Great article on letting us know that it’s okay to not give your baby cow’s milk. I kind of feel like you left one detail out though. What would be a good alternative to cow’s milk? I know I would personally probably do coconut or almond but I just wondered what your opinion was.
    Thanks for all that you do…

    • McKenna Gordon Post author

      Thank you, Tara! I suppose the reason I left that part out is because babies don’t need 12-20 ounces of any milk throughout the day. Since their dietary needs can be met with healthy foods, they could get all their liquid from water… but alternative milks and fresh juices are also okay. I just updated the post to reflect this. Thanks again for the feedback, that was a great question!

  • Shelley

    I must confess – I don’t believe in weaning babies off of breast milk and on to cows milk. I feel like American moms were first told formula is better for their babies than breast milk. Luckily that trend seems to be turning and most people realize it’s not true. But American moms still seem to be told (via doctors and other marketing) that cows milk is better for their 1yr-olds than mom’s milk or other foods.

    Luckily we didn’t drink much milk in our home growing up so it’s not hard for me to give it up. My mom didn’t care for it and rarely drank it. She’s been told she has healthy bones. My aunt drinks it every day and has early onset of osteoperosis in her fifties. (The movie Forks Over Knives has a good explanation of why this happens.)

    We won’t be drinking it often in our home and when the time comes I surely won’t be making my children drink it regularly.

    Thanks for the video on how to make almond milk. It’s a great substitute on cereal or granola in the morning!

  • Erin

    Thank you so much for this. My mom has been stressing me out over the milk issue with my youngest lately. She is 17 months and it still breastfed, though we are down to only a morning and an evening feeding. This helped my confidence in my feeling that I was not jeopardizing her health by not supplementing with cow’s milk. Thank you again!

  • Jodie

    Thank you so much for this! My son has such bad eczema from dairy products and after I took him off formula my Doctor suggested almond milk. Thank you for the list of other foods I can give him to make sure he is getting enough!

  • Meredith

    Thanks! So many parents don’t even know this. I started both my kids on cow milk after breast and formula. It took me a year to figure out my youngest was intolerant to the cows milk. Now he is just happy with the almond milk. Not that it is even needed as we have so many of the other ingredients in our smoothies.

  • Sagaciousmama

    Great article, I appreciate the advice – but I think readers would greatly benefit from knowing that WHO (World Health Organization) recommends a minimum of two years of breastfeeding/expressed milk, (beyond that is even better), and that this should be a first and foremost consideration on how to meet their dietary need for calcium, fat and all the other many nutritional and health benefits of breastfeeding/”extended” breastfeeding!

  • Libby

    McKenna, Thank you so much for this article. My daughter’s 5 year old was breast fed but after weening he showed sensitivity to cow’s milk. She started using soy milk & both he & his younger brother drink it as their main beverage other than apple juice. The 5 & 3 year old are very picky eaters. They do not eat vegetables & very little meat. The 3 year old has asthma & is ill often, takes steroid breathing treatments. Daughter & son-in-law prepare healthy meals but are unsuccessful getting them to try new foods or healthy menu items. Really concerned about the soy, but don’t want to stress them further, is there anyway I can get your article to them, they are not on fb nor Pinterest. Thank you, proud but concerned Maw Maw

  • 100% Panatag Lactum Milk

    Thank you for this very insightful article! Everyone deserves to know the truth about feeding milk to babies, especially first time mothers. I totally agree that after 12 months, your baby can already take in other nutritious drinks like water and juices so he/she won’t grow really big as he grow older. Keep it up!

    • NOVAmom

      There are PLENTY of sources of protein other than milk. My son is still on formula (he’s not 1 yet), but he eats hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, Greek yogurt, cheeses, and meats.

  • jennifer m

    Thanks for the article. i have twin 13mo olds and last week removed breastmilk altogether from them & have been trying almond milk. they refuse it 🙁 they drink a lot of water but i recv a lot of back lash from docs and family members to get them on a milk. the only one i feel safe with is almond, but again, they refuse it. any suggestions?

  • Karen Mac

    Thank you for this information. My daughter is almost 12months and one day just stopped taking her milk. We tried giving it to her in various forms of beakers and cup, along with trying cows milk as well but nothing worked.

    The article has helped give me fresh ideas and new ingredients to try to help her receive the essential vitamins and fats that she needs.

  • Joyce Wang

    How early can i give almond milk to my baby? my baby is 4 months old so far on breastmilk exclusively but i want to start weaning her from my breast and eventually from my breastmilk but i don’t want to give her animal milk, would I be able to give her almond milk this early on?

    • mari stratton

      i think they recommend to wait until the child is a year old before giving almond milk in case they have a nut allergy but i could be wrong.

  • TR

    I would recommend editing your last sentence to include breastmilk as part of a 12 mo old’s liquid intake. No need to wean from the breast at 1 yr old.

    • Katy

      My daughter practically weaned herself before she turned one. I decided that it was pointless to try and force her to nurse when she would fuss and cry if I tried to put her to my breast. My milk supply diminished when she was 7 1/2 months and she ended up loosing a pound so we immediately had to put her on formula so she would gain her weight back. Thankfully she did and in the end I felt completely defeated and had worked so hard to breastfeed up until that point and then when she started rejecting me I called a quits. So what should my daughter be drinking to supplement that loss of breast milk since I can no longer provide that for her?

  • Katy

    Hello, I just wanted to thank you for this very informative article. I have been giving my 13 month old cows milk no more than 16 oz a day as directed by her pediatrician, and I only did this because I was directed to do so and of course whenever anyone has any kind of alternative to a norm they receive some form of retribution from elders and family members. I was unable to breastfeed my daughter after introducing formula because she realized I wasn’t giving her what she needed and this was after she lost a pound from my milk supply diminishing most likely due to stress. So after feeling so defeated I switched to cows milk after she turned one because I wanted her off of formula. Now we feed her a variety of foods and the bottle is more of a comfort before her morning nap and then again at night before bed. Could I switch to almond milk or another substitute at those times so I don’t have to take her comfort bottles from her quite so suddenly?

  • Martha

    Hi my toddler is a 13 month boy whom i was hoping to switch from formula to cow’s milk but he refused it amd lately he started gettin constipated so i stooped and start junior formula named babelac but that too seem to upset his stomach cause he is constipated agaIn so what shall i do? Can i just stop milk and just focus on his food is tat possible am worried plz help

    • McKenna Gordon Post author

      Yes, you can stop milk and focus on his food. Stick to whole foods (fruits veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and lean meats) as much as possible. Make sure he’s drinking 20 oz a day of something, including water, almond milk (unless there is a nut sensitivity), coconut milk. Avoid juice as much as possible unless it’s extremely watered down. 🙂