Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research on which milk is best for toddlers, as many mums seem to be concerned about whether their little ones should be drinking cow’s milk, skimmed milk or infant formula after their first birthday.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a baby’s first 6 months and for breastfeeding until at least 2 years of age. So I guess if you are breastfeeding your toddler then formula verses cow’s milk isn’t relevant to you, that’s one less thing to worry about, YAY!

The Australian manufacturers and importers of infant formula have entered into a voluntary agreement that follows the principles of the World Health Organization’s International Guidelines for the Marketing of Infant Formula. Basically, the Code and Agreement prevent formula for babies 12 months and under from being advertised in Australia. The reason for this agreement and its advertising restrictions is to protect breastfeeding.

However, these restrictions do not apply to toddlers and follow formulas. So by labeling infant formula as “gold” or “formula”, marketing companies can advertise baby formula only by association. This may be one of the reasons for such heavy advertising of infant formulas.

Bellinda Kontominas, medical reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald (06.09.07) quotes a Sydney pediatrician, Dr Patricia McVeagh, as saying: “Unfortunately, the advertisement is on the vulnerability of parents… Nutritionally, there is no need for infant formula in healthy children, and it’s much better to have 600 milliliters of cow’s milk or a cow’s milk product like cheese or yogurt.”

While many nutritionists will tell you that formula is the equivalent of junk food, I guess to be fair, it has its place. It can supplement the diet of fussy eaters and children who may be missing out on iron and calcium due to their limited diets. And while there are other ways to combat fussiness, there are times when real life takes over and the demands of work, other children, partners, etc. can make toddler formulas practical.

During my research, I was surprised to find that it has been recommended in the National Dietary Guidelines for Children and Young People that all children in Australia over the age of 2 consume low-fat milk. This is because the saturated fat in whole milk accumulates in the arteries over time and increases the risk of heart disease, and that the low-fat milk varieties generally contain more calcium than the whole milks.

On the other hand, toddlers between 12 and 24 months need the whole milk, and although soy milk should not be offered to babies under 12 months, toddlers over 2 years of age with lactose intolerance can be offered soy milk containing added calcium.

So at the end of the day, keeping things simple is usually the best way to go. Cow’s milk is great for toddlers, it contains everything they need to be healthy and strong. It’s cheaper than formula, readily available if you’re out, it’s great on cereal, and it’s something you don’t have to wean your toddler off of as they get older. So why complicate things by using toddler formula if you don’t have to?

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