Sometimes parents look for a toddler drink to give to their children after they have outgrown infant formula. More often, toddler formula (also known as toddler milk) is purchased by parents who worry that their children might not be meeting their nutritional requirements from a regular diet.
After all, what toddlers haven’t thrown meals that their mother or father has lovingly prepared onto the floor – 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 parents worry whether their toddlers’ diets are meeting their nutritional needs. This can easily lead to the decision of adding toddler milk to their child’s diet.
But before you do, there are some things you might like to know.
What’s the difference between baby formula and toddler formula?
The main difference between infant formula and toddler formula is the concentration of nutrients.
To find out the differences, you can read BellyBelly’s article What’s In Breast Milk and What’s In Formula?
7 things you should know about toddler formula
If you have been formula feeding your baby, it’s logical to assume that a toddler formula might be necessary once your child no longer needs infant formula.
Whole dairy milk (full fat) is completely fine for babies of one year and older; in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 2-3 cups of whole milk per day for toddlers aged from 12-24 months.
Here’s everything you need to know to make an informed decision about the healthiest option for your toddler.
#1. Infant formula and toddler milk look very similar – for a reason
Some formula is made for babies under the age of 12 months. Infant formula (or baby formula) is designed as a breast milk substitute. Infant formulas contain essential nutrients required for the optimal growth of babies who are not breastfed.
There are also very similar looking products marketed for children aged 1 year and older. These are called toddler formulas.
There’s reason why infant formula and toddler formula are made to look alike.
Research shows that many parents don’t know the difference between infant formula and toddler milk, but recognize the differences between brands.
Because there are regulations on the marketing of infant formulas, and no regulations on the marketing of toddler formulas, formula companies use toddler milk advertising to increase their brand awareness.
#2. Research into the claims formula companies make is seriously lacking
Formula companies make claims about their product in order to get sales.
You might have seen toddler formulas labeled with claims such as:
- ‘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’.
It’s important to note that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that toddler formula does any of these things.
A healthy diet that includes nutrient dense foods, without toddler milks, is much more likely to support these claims.
#3. Toddler formulas are not necessary for most toddlers
Leading health authorities do not recommend toddler formula as part of a regular diet. The American Academy of Pediatrics states, ‘toddler milk or “transitional formula” 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 age-appropriate solid 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, iron and other vitamins and minerals) can be easily obtained from a toddler’s diet.
Joy Anderson, an accredited practising dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant says, ‘Toddlers can get all the nutrients they need from the normal food groups’.
#4. Breast milk is still nutritious for toddlers
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 human milk oligosaccharides, 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’.
Whole cow’s milk is also suitable for toddlers, although it’s not as nutritious as breast milk. Unlike infant formula, you don’t need to give your toddler a full bottle of cow’s milk and it should be given in addition to family meals, not in place of them.
#5. Potential disadvantages of toddler formula
There are several reasons why toddler formula is not a good idea:
Toddler formula might prevent a child from developing healthy eating habits
When toddlers regularly fill up on milk, it can take the place of eating a healthy, balanced diet. Some parents might also think that by offering their child toddler formula, they don’t need to worry about whether or not they are meeting their nutritional needs with food.
Toddlers are notorious for being fussy eaters, and this could potentially exacerbate the problem.
Toddler milk might contain unhealthy ingredients
Although toddler formulas are marketed based on the added ingredients they contain – such as vitamin D, fatty acids and additional vitamins and minerals – they can also have more sodium than regular cow’s milk, and added sugars or sweeteners, such as corn syrup or brown rice syrup and palm oil.
Toddler formula might reduce iron absorption
Toddler formulas derived from cow’s milk are naturally high in calcium, which can affect iron absorption.
It’s better to have calcium from cow’s milk and iron from other sources in the diet, such as whole grains, green leafy vegetables and meat.
Iron absorption can be enhanced by consuming iron at the same time as foods rich in vitamin C.
If your little one has a milk protein allergy or sensitivity, 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.
For more about milk protein sensitivity, read BellyBelly’s article Cows’ Milk Protein Sensitivity In Babies – 8 Facts.
#6. Potential advantages of toddler formula
There are few situations where toddler milk might be beneficial.
In extreme circumstances, if a child is unable to consume regular foods, then a toddler formula might be recommended. This should be on the advice of your child’s doctor or qualified dietitian.
There are also other formulas available for children who cannot eat normally and one of these might be more appropriate according to the child’s situation.
Are organic toddler formulas better?
There is no ‘best toddler formula’. All formulas are made to a standard that makes sure the nutrient levels meet the appropriate nutritional requirement for babies.
There might be some benefit in choosing an organic formula over non-organic formulas, as the use of organic ingredients prohibits genetic modification, which might be a concern for some parents.
#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.
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. Although the MAIF Agreement helps somewhat in promoting and protecting breastfeeding, implementing the WHO Code would be much more effective. This could be one step towards improving breastfeeding rates and normalizing breastfeeding in toddlers and older children. 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 breaches was abolished a little while ago, due to government cut backs. However, complaints can now be made directly to the department of health.