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Taken off breastfeeding or formula, some toddlers refuse cow's milk.

Taking a child off of breast milk or infant formula can be frustrating for moms, especially when their 1-year-old refuses to drink cow’s milk. “Realizing that it’s not as sweet as breast milk or formula, some children flat out reject cow’s milk,” says Eileen Tyrala, MD, a pediatrician and baby formula specialist at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

“The milk strike,” as some pediatricians call it, can even turn into a lifelong refusal to drink cow’s milk. The problem for a child who stops drinking either milk or formula is the potential for a vitamin D or calcium deficiency.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vitamin D plays a role in the prevention of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Both calcium and vitamin D are essential for building strong bones and muscles. Babies and younger children with inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake are at an increased risk for weaker bones and even rickets, says Dr. Tyrala.

What You Can Do

There are two ways to solve this problem: coaxing the child into drinking cow’s milk or adding food or drinks to the child’s diet that contain vitamin D and calcium. To get your child to drink cow’s milk:

Mix whole milk with some formula or breast milk.

Add small amounts of strawberry or chocolate flavoring to milk.

Philadelphia dietitian Althea Zanecosky, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, cautions that it may take up to 10 attempts before a young child accepts a new food, including cow’s milk. She also warns not to give too large a serving. Four ounces is the appropriate milk serving for a 1-year-old.

If that does not work, try to substitute the following foods or drinks to gain calcium and vitamin D:

Try switching to almond, coconut, rice or soy milk, all of which have equivalent calcium and vitamin D to cow’s milk.

Try flavored yogurt.

Offer cheese products (cottage cheese, mozzarella string cheese), or add cheese to sandwiches.

Switch to calcium-fortified orange juice, breads and breakfast cereals.

Why They Reject Milk

Why do babies reject cow’s milk in the first place? According to Dr. Tyrala, it comes down to each child’s taste preference. Both breast milk and formula are sweeter than cow’s milk. In addition, neither formula nor breast milk taste anything like cow’s milk, so switching to it is a significant change. The problem has nothing to do with lactose intolerance, as lactose is a sugar that is present in all three products, says Tyrala.

Parents of milk-striking kids can breathe easier knowing their children do not have a condition, just a fussy palate.

Sara Spector is a MetroKids intern and Indiana University journalism student.

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