Sometimes parents look for a formula to give to their child after he or she has outgrown infant formula. More often, toddler formula (also known as toddler milk) is purchased by parents who worry about their toddler’s diet being insufficient.
After all, what toddler hasn’t thrown meals onto the floor that their mother or father has lovingly prepared – over and over again?
And, who doesn’t have a toddler who seems to eat next to nothing for days on end, yet on other days, doesn’t stop eating?
Naturally, all these things can make a parent worry if their toddler is getting all the nutrients he or she needs. This can easily lead to the decision of formula feeding. But before you do, there are some things you might like to know.
7 things you should know about toddler formula
Whole milk (full fat) is completely fine for babies one year and older – in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 2-3 cups of whole milk per day for toddlers from 12-24 months of age.
Yet, some parents assume toddler formulas are the next best thing after infant formula. Could toddler milk be the answer to help toddlers to be healthy? What is the next step after infant formula? What about cow’s milk?
Here’s everything you need to know to make an informed decision.
#1: Infant formula and toddler formula looks very similar… for a reason
You don’t have to travel far to find shelves stacked full of powdered milk formula products. Some formulas are made for babies under the age of 12 months. These are called infant formulas and are designed as a breast milk substitute for babies who are not breastfed.
There are also very similar looking tins marketed for children aged 1 year and older. These are called toddler formulas.
There’s a reason why infant formula and toddler formulas are made to look identical – you’ll understand why in point 7.
#2: Research is seriously lacking behind the claims formula companies make
Formula companies make claims about their product in order to get sales. A recent trip to my local supermarket revealed three different brands of powdered milk formula claimed:
- “Helps build strong foundations for immunity, brain, and metabolism”
- “A unique combination of nutrients and other ingredients designed to help support growth and development at each stage of your child’s life”
- “Nutritionally supporting your child’s immune system and brain development.”
Formula companies market their products very well. However, scientific evidence to back up their claims is seriously lacking.
It’s important for families who use infant formulas and toddler formulas to be able to make informed decisions, based on information they can trust. The information needs to be independent, and not driven by profit motives and marketing hype from the formula industry.
#3: Toddler formulas are not necessary for most toddlers
The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “Toddler milk” or “transitional formulas” are unnecessary for most children and provide no nutritional benefit over a healthy, balanced eating plan.”
In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends:
- Special complementary foods or milks for toddlers are not required for healthy children.
- From 1 year of age and beyond, toddlers should be consuming family foods
consistent with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
- Solid foods should provide an increasing proportion of energy intake after the first year. Offering a variety of nutritious foods is likely to meet most nutrient needs and provides a basis for healthy eating habits.
The nutrients toddler formulas promote (e.g. omega 3, prebiotics, and iron) can be easily obtained from a toddler’s diet. Joy Anderson, an accredited practicing dietitian, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant say, “Toddlers can get all the nutrients they need from the normal food groups.”
#4: Breast milk is still nutritious for toddlers
On the other hand, breast milk provides a toddler with many factors that toddler formula doesn’t.
Joy says, “Human milk is designed for human children, and is a nutritious food for as long as the child drinks it. It also provides other factors, like immune factors, growth factors, hormones, etc. It’s more than a food, and breastfeeding is also emotional, involving comfort, reassurance and psychological attachment to the mother.”
To find out the differences between what’s in formula and what’s in breast milk, read our article here.
Cow’s milk is also suitable for toddlers, although it’s not as nutritious as breastmilk. Unlike infant formula, you don’t need to give your toddler a full bottle of cow’s milk and it shouldn’t replace their diet.
#5: Potential negatives of toddler formula
Toddler formula may somewhat prevent a child from developing healthy eating habits. According to Joy:
“If a mother uses toddler formula as ‘insurance’ for the child’s nutrient intake, the child may not learn healthy eating habits: ‘It doesn’t matter what else he/she eats, as the formula will make up for any deficiencies,’ type of attitude. As part of normal development, they should be learning to appreciate real food.”
Toddler milk may contain ingredients that are not healthy for toddlers. “The formula may also be sweetened (e.g. with corn syrup or other sugars), which is unhealthy. Flavors also mean unnecessary artificial additives in the child’s diet,” Joy says.
Toddler formula may also reduce iron absorption. “It’s also very hard to provide iron in a cow’s milk formula, as the milk is naturally high in calcium and these two minerals compete for absorption. It’s better to have them in different foods in the diet,” Joy says.
If your little one has a milk protein allergy or sensitivity (find out more about that here), alternative options such as soy milk or goat milk might be a consideration. It’s important to look at the possible side effects of using soy with regard to your child’s hormones.
In addition, genetic modification of ingredients in the food and drink we consume is also a concern for some parents, who prefer to consume non-gmo products.
#6: Potential positives of toddler formula
There are few situations where toddler milk may be beneficial.
According to Joy, “In extreme circumstances, if the child cannot consume normal food for some reason, then it could be useful. This should be on the advice of a doctor or qualified dietitian. There are also other formulas available for children who cannot eat normally and one of these may be more appropriate according to the child’s situation.”
#7: The MAIF agreement and the WHO code
The WHO Code was designed to help prevent exploitation with formula marketing.
Australia responded to the WHO Code with the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula (MAIF) Agreement, which is a voluntary, self-regulatory code of conduct between manufacturers and importers of infant formula in Australia.
The MAIF Agreement says that companies must not promote infant formula (for ages 0–6 months) or follow-on formula (for ages 6–12 months). Toddler formula (from 12 months on) is not part of these agreements.
Hence, the marketing of toddler milk has no restrictions and is aggressively marketed. Research shows that many parents don’t differentiate between infant and toddler formulas, but rather only recognize the brand — which is where the first point of this article comes into play. Formula companies make both infant and toddler formulas identical in order for you to recognize the tin, hence buy their formula for your baby (despite the advertising being for toddlers).
Australia still has a way to go in its regulation of formula
It seems Australia has a way to go in terms of the regulation of formula. While the MAIF Agreement helps somewhat to promote and protect breastfeeding, implementing the WHO Code would be much more effective. This could be one step towards helping to improve breastfeeding rates and normalizing breastfeeding a toddler and beyond. In the meantime, toddler formula is not necessary for healthy toddlers.
NOTE: If you wish to make a complaint about a formula company’s advertising (due to a violation of the MAIF), the advisory panel for breeches was abolished a little while ago, due to government cut backs. However, complaints can now be made directly to the department of health.