Almond milk is a common alternative to cow's milk for adults, but developing babies have different nutritional needs.
Most doctors and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies less than 1-year-old drink breast milk or, if breast milk is not available, dairy- or soy-based infant formula unless otherwise advised.
Experts advise only introducing other milk, such as cow's milk or almond milk, after a baby's first birthday, as the specific nutrient profile in breast and formula milk is essential for development.
Almond milk can safely be given to most toddlers but is not a replacement for breast milk or infant formula.
Almond milk may be a healthful replacement for cow's milk in some cases, but there are some nutritional differences to be aware of when making the switch.
Some people may give almond milk to children who are lactose-intolerant or if they avoid dairy for other reasons.
Toddlers can drink almond milk once or twice a day in between periods of breast-feeding or eating their other foods, but only when they are over 12 months old.
Almond milk is made of finely ground almonds and water. Other ingredients may include thickeners, sweeteners, and flavorings, such as vanilla. Many manufacturers also add nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin D, and calcium.
Almond milk may be a safe supplement to a toddler's diet, but no milk will compare to the nutrients provided by breast milk or infant formula.
Almond milk should not be used to replace breast milk or formula, as developing babies need specific vitamins and nutrients that these kinds of milk provide.
If anyone has any concerns that a child may be lactose-intolerant, talk to the child's doctor. Lactose intolerance is more common in older children and adults than in babies and toddlers.
If using almond milk to supplement a toddler's diet, ensure that:
- the milk is low in sugar or unsweetened
- the milk is fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D
- the baby consumes other forms of fat and protein
Ask a pediatrician about added ingredients, such as flavorings or thickeners.
It is also essential to find out whether the baby has a nut allergy. If relatives of the baby have nut allergies, it is best to avoid nuts altogether and ask a pediatrician before introducing any type of nut milk into the baby's diet.
Nutritionally, cow's milk and almond milk vary significantly. Some doctors recommend using whole cow's milk for weaning babies from 1 to 2 years old because it has a high concentration of fat.
According to the same report, cow's milk is also higher in protein than almond milk: 1 cup of whole milk contains almost 8 grams of protein, but 1 cup of fortified almond milk contains only 1 gram of protein.
However, if these fats and proteins are supplemented somewhere else in the baby's diet, almond milk may be an appropriate substitute for whole milk in toddlers.
Cow's milk is also higher in naturally-occurring sugars when compared to unsweetened almond milk. People should be cautious and look for unsweetened almond milk, as sweetened or flavored brands may contain more sugar than cow's milk.
The other consideration is the differences in nutrients and vital minerals between the two types of milk. A cup of cow's milk fortified with vitamins contains:
- 276 milligrams (mg) calcium
- 322 mg potassium
- 205 mg phosphorus
- 105 mg sodium
- 395 units (IU) vitamin A
- 124 IU vitamin D
The same amount of unsweetened almond milk may contain:
After a baby is 1 year old, milk of any kind should only supplement their diet, and it should not take the place of other whole foods.
Neither almond milk nor regular cow's milk are good substitutes for breast or formula milk for babies under 1 year. At any age, if the child is breast-feeding, no other milk is necessary.
Just as some babies may be allergic to nuts or almonds, some babies may also be allergic or intolerant to cow's milk. If any members of the baby's close family are lactose-intolerant, talk to the child's doctor about what to give them to drink.
If almond milk does not sound like the right option, people who are looking for dairy-free alternatives to give their growing toddler may prefer other plant-based milk, such as:
- coconut milk
- rice milk
- hemp milk
- soy milk
- oat milk
- hazelnut milk
Before buying plant-based milk, always check to make sure they are fortified with vitamins and minerals and are low in sugar.
Almond milk fortified with vitamins and minerals can be a safe supplement to a toddler's diet. However, added ingredients such as thickeners and sweeteners are not ideal for a child.
Almond milk is low in both fat and protein content, and a toddler who is drinking almond milk will need to consume plenty of fat and protein in their diet from other sources.
Babies may have an allergic reaction to nut milks, so always talk to a doctor before adding almond milk to the diet.
Once they are 1 year old, babies should have no more than 16 to 24 ounces of any milk (other than breast milk) per day. It is essential that toddlers over 1 year old get most of their nutrition from foods and do not to fill up on liquids that do not give them balanced nutrition.
Adding one or two servings a day of fortified almond milk to a well-rounded diet is a safe alternative to cow's milk in developing early toddlers.
Do not give cow's milk, almond milk, or types of milk to toddlers until their first birthday. Babies younger than this should only have breast milk or infant formula.