Experts advise that children under 2 years should have no more than 1 and two-thirds to 2 cups of whole milk daily. Toddlers over 2 years should drink no more than 2 to 2.5 cups a day.

Parents or caregivers of infants under 12 months should not give them whole milk, as it does not contain adequate nutrients. Additionally, infants cannot properly process whole milk, so this could lead to illness.

However, after 12 months, toddlers need the calcium, vitamins, and minerals in whole milk.

Cow’s milk is the best choice for toddlers due to its high nutritional value. Caregivers may give unsweetened, fortified soy milk to children with milk allergies or lactose intolerance. Other plant-based milks may lack the nutrients in fortified cow’s milk and soy milk.

This article examines how much milk a toddler needs and the benefits and types of milk.

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According to the Department of Agriculture, toddlers under two require 1 and two-thirds to 2 cups of dairy foods daily. After age 2, a toddler may drink slightly more milk, between 2 and 2.5 cups daily.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the same amount for children under 2 years — 1 and two-thirds to 2 cups per day. However, the CDC also advises that consuming too much cow’s milk may suppress a child’s appetite for other nutrient-rich foods.

Other drinks, such as fruit juices, should never replace milk or water in a child’s diet because they are less nutritionally beneficial.

The nutrients in milk are vital to a child’s development. Vitamin D and calcium help build strong bones. Milk also contains potassium, zinc, protein, and vitamin A.

The following dairy products can supplement the nutritional needs of toddlers who will not or cannot drink milk:

  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • fortified soy products such as yogurts

Some dairy-like foods are high in fat and should not replace milk in a toddler’s diet. These include:

  • cream cheese
  • sour cream
  • cream
  • butter

In a 2021 review, researchers explained that the first 1,000 days of life, up to a child’s second birthday, are crucial for development. During this period, proper nutrition plays a vital role in the development of the brain, skeletal system, and organs.

A review from 2019 suggests that children under 2 years have an essential need to get enough vitamin D, iodine, or calcium. Vitamin D is critical to bone growth, while low iron levels contribute to anemia.

Milk contains these vitamins and minerals along with:

  • zinc
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • selenium
  • vitamin A
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin C

Cow’s milk also contains all the essential amino acids in a highly digestible form.

Learn about iron-rich foods for toddlers.

While whole milk is best for toddlers, it can be filling, leaving a child unable or unwilling to eat other foods.

A rounded diet is vital to optimal overall development, so limiting the amount of milk a toddler consumes is important.

Parents and caregivers may also consider giving milk in a half-full sippy cup after meals, which can help slow down drinking.

Children between the ages of 1 and 2 years should drink whole milk because it contains the fat and nutrients necessary for development.

Some research shows that drinking higher-fat milk decreases the likelihood of obesity, at least in some populations.

People can speak with a pediatrician for advice on the best type of milk to give their child.

Learn more about food for a 1-year-old.

Milk can play a crucial role in healthy development during the toddler years.

Experts recommend no more than 1 and two-thirds to 2 cups of milk per day for toddlers between 1–2 years of age. Children over 2 years should consume 2 to 2.5 cups of milk daily.

Toddlers under 2 years need to drink whole milk for the fat and nutrients vital to healthy bone and organ development. Those over 2 years can consume whole, skim, or low fat milk.

Children with lactose intolerance or who will not drink whole milk may drink soy milk. However, some milk alternatives, including plant-based types of milk, are a less suitable choice since they lack certain nutrients.