Milk – why it’s important in your baby’s diet

How much milk should your baby have, what if your baby goes off milk and just what's in milk - your questions answered

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Whether you’ve just started weaning or you have a hungry toddler who’s devouring three meals a day, milk still plays an important part in your little one’s diet. Weaning from milk to solids is a gradual process, and for the first few years of her life, your baby will need to keep up the milk feeds to ensure her nutritional needs are met.

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Why your child needs milk

Milk contains lots of nutrients that are essential for growing babies and children. These include:

  • Calcium, needed for strong bones and teeth.
  • Protein, for growth and energy.
  • Vitamin A, for eyesight and immune function.
  • Vitamin B12, for production of healthy cells.
  • Iodine, to regulate the metabolism.
  • Magnesium, for muscle function.
  • Phosphorus, for energy release.

Milk is high in calories, which helps to fuel your baby’s rapid growth and development. Breastmilk also contains essential fatty acids called DHAs, which have been linked to brain function and higher IQ. Many formula milks have these fats added.

Milk isn’t just a way of helping your little one gain nutrients; it’s also important for keeping her hydrated, which helps to keep her healthy and energised. Plus it’s a good source of comfort, too – many tots enjoy a breastfeed or bottle of milk as part of a soothing bedtime routine, or if they’re feeling unwell.

How much milk does your child need?

Before six months, all of your baby’s nutrients will come from milk alone. Beyond six months, solids start to play a part in supplementing the calories, vitamins and minerals provided by milk, although your baby will still get the bulk of her nutrients from milk until she’s one. As a guide:

  • From six to 12 months, she should have 500-600ml of milk per day, alongside solids.
  • From one to three years, she should have up to 360ml of milk per day, or a combination of milk and other dairy produce (cheese, yoghurt, etc).

What milk should your child be drinking?

Until your baby’s first birthday, the only milks that are suitable for her to drink are either breastmilk or formula. If your baby is bottlefed, you can either continue to use the same milk that you used before six months, or move on to a follow-on formula. Follow-on formulas are suitable from six months and have different levels of nutrients for growing babies. It’s not essential to switch from a first-stage formula to follow-on milk, but you may want to change if you’re concerned that your baby isn’t eating enough solids, or getting enough variety. 

Beyond 12 months, you can change from breastmilk or formula to full-fat cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is lower in key nutrients, particularly iron, than breastmilk or formula, but by 12 months, your child should be getting enough nutrition from solid foods. But don’t give her semi-skimmed milk until she’s two, or skimmed milk until she’s five: low-fat milks are also low in essential vitamins and minerals.

What if your baby goes off milk?

Some babies lose their enthusiasm for milk once they start eating solids. Before 12 months, it’s important to try to get at least 500ml of milk into your baby each day, so persevere with offering regular bottles or breastfeeds. You could also try offering milk in a cup, so your baby can drink it more independently, or tweaking her routine so she’s more receptive to milk: you could, for example, give her a feed as soon as she wakes from a nap while she’s still sleepy and less likely to protest.

From 12 months onwards, your baby needs less milk, so if she’s no longer keen on drinking it, you can boost her calcium intake in other ways. She needs three servings of dairy produce a day to help with her nutritional needs, so try to include three of the following each day:

  • A bowl of cereal or porridge with 120ml of milk.
  • A pot of yoghurt or fromage frais.
  • A matchbox sized piece of cheese.
  • A milky dessert such as rice pudding or fruit with custard.
  • A cheese sauce served with fish or vegetables.
  • Potato mashed with milk, butter and grated cheese.
  • A frozen yoghurt ice lolly.
  • Pasta or risotto topped with grated cheese.
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Find out all you need to know about baby nutrition.

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