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Expert Q&A

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How can I get my toddler to drink milk?

Asked by Maria Aguiluz, Miami, Florida

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I can't get my 2-year-old to drink ANY MILK! I have tried soy milk, cow milk with Nesquik, and nothing works. Any suggestions?

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Milk can be a great part of a child's diet because it is rich in calcium, vitamin D, protein and other nutrients. The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences recommends that children ages 1 to 3 years consume 500 mg of calcium daily (the equivalent of about 16 ounces of milk).

Some children stop drinking milk when they make the transition from breast milk or formula to regular milk, or from bottles to sippy cups. Others prefer the taste of water, juice or other beverages that have come to take the place of milk in the diet. Finally, some toddlers have trouble digesting the lactose carbohydrate in milk (called lactose intolerance) and shy away from milk because they associate it with feelings of discomfort such as bloating, cramps and diarrhea.

If your child seems to tolerate milk but still doesn't want it, here are some strategies to try:

Start small. A serving size of milk for children ages 1 to 3 years is 6 ounces, compared with 8 ounces of milk for older children and adults. Settle for 1 or 2 ounces (or even a sip) at a time at first if that's all your child will take. Continue offering small amounts of milk to your child in hopes that she will eventually learn to accept and enjoy it.

Offer choices. At mealtimes and snacks, make milk the beverage of choice by asking if she'd rather have white milk or chocolate (or strawberry) milk. Toddlers like to have some independence, but you can control the choices. You can also control the amount of flavoring that goes into the milk and gradually decrease it to limit the added sugar.

Make the delivery appealing. Serve milk in a favorite cup, use a fun straw, or try a sports bottle with a pull-up spout. Your child may wish to have a special container for use only with milk.

Opt for other dairy products. Dairy products are rich in calcium and include yogurt, cheese and ice cream. You can also make milkshakes or fruit smoothies with milk, low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Count the calcium from all foods. Although dairy products are well known for their calcium content, tofu, sardines, some leafy green vegetables and calcium-fortified foods such as fortified orange juice, cereals and other breakfast foods contain this valuable nutrient also. Check food labels or sources such as Health.gov's page on nutrients for the amount of calcium in each serving.

Add milk to foods. The classic example is pouring milk over cereal, but your child may enjoy dunking food in milk or having milk in dishes such as macaroni and cheese, casseroles or soups.

Stay positive about milk and be a role model by drinking milk on a regular basis (or at least by keeping any negative comments to yourself).

If your child has nausea, gas, cramps, bloating or diarrhea after drinking milk or consuming other dairy products, consider lactose intolerance:

Lactose intolerance occurs when the body does not produce enough lactase enzyme to digest the carbohydrate. In the United States, lactose intolerance affects about 25 percent of the population, usually after the age of 5 years, and is more common in children of Asian, African, Hispanic or Native American descent.

Some people with lactose intolerance are able to eat yogurt, cheese or ice cream without problems but have difficulty digesting the larger amounts of lactose in milk. If your child has lactose intolerance, you may wish to try lactose-free dairy products (which include lactase enzyme) or use lactase enzyme digestive supplements. For more advice, be sure to talk with your pediatrician if you suspect your child may have this condition.

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