Toddler formulas: What’s the deal?

I have hesitated to admit this, because I used to brag about how well-rounded a palate my child possessed, but things have changed in the past few months, and….(deep breath)…

My son is a picky eater.

And while we are confessing things, I should probably tell you that while he is perfectly capable of drinking from sippies, straws and regular cups, my 14 month old is still a slave to the silicone nipple.

And one more thing…shhhh... He’s still on formula. Not the next-step, toddler version, but the good old Similac Alimentum, a.k.a. our Stinky Savior. You’d think the kid would have jumped at the chance to get off the stuff, which smells disturbingly like regurgitated potatoes, but no. He can’t get enough. Since he’s highly allergic to milk protein, whole milk isn’t an option, but we’ve offered him all sorts of substitute milks – rice, soy, oat, grain. Vanilla flavored, chocolate flavor… we even made him a smoothie of chocolate soy milk, fresh strawberries and banana. It was delicious. But did my kid drink it? Nope. All he wanted was the rotten potato powder.

He’s also been on a food strike lately; pretty much all he will eat is fruit, Cheerios, the occasional egg, these little organic spinach pancakes, and avocado (yeah, avocado is a fruit, I know… but I like to pretend it counts as a green veggie). He drinks his weight in water (flavored with the tiniest bit of pear or apple juice – still keeping to the 6oz maximum recommended by the AAP), but other than that, it’s Alimentum or nothin’. I figure he could use the vitamins and calcium in the formula, so I still give him about 14 oz a day. Sigh.

My pediatrician suggested that we try a next stage formula, but here’s the rub: it doesn’t come in a hypoallergenic form. Yeah, they have a soy version, but soy makes me a bit nervous (we’ll touch on that in a later post) for my son’s, err, family jewels, and we’re raising him as a “California Vegetarian” (veggie with fish, because what Californian can resist sushi?), so he’ll have his fair share of soy products without adding soy milk to the mix.

But her suggestion got me thinking – what’s the deal with this “next stage” formula? I’ve seen it in the formula aisle, and it confuses me… don’t kids just switch to milk (or a milk substitute) after a year? Who in their right mind would continue to pay a small fortune to Enfamil when they don’t need to?

Google led me to Dr. Greene’s (author of “Eating Greene”) website, where he explains:

Toddler formulas have many of the same vitamins and minerals found in infant formulas. The main difference between toddler and infant formulas is that toddler formulas contain a greater amount of calcium and phosphorus. They are designed to match the higher calcium and phosphorus levels children need as they grow, similar to the levels found in whole milk.

One benefit of formulas over whole milk is that many of them contain DHA, an important omega-3 fatty acid (that you would find in breastmilk). One way or another, getting DHA in the diet seems especially important in the first two years. If you think your child needs formula after the first year, switching to a toddler formula at that time is one way to accomplish this while providing her with the extra calcium and phosphorus she needs.

(Incidentally, while Dr. Greene is extremely pro-breastfeeding., and I do not agree with his assessment on all the topical issues, he does have some great articles on antidepressants and nursing and the DHA/ARA factor. Apparently, one of his kids was formula fed due to breast cancer, so he realizes that formula is not the devil, which is more than I can say for many of the “pop” pediatricians.)
What I’ve gathered from a few hours of research is that there is certainly no harm in switching to a toddler formula after the first year. I’m not a huge fan of cow’s milk in general, and while these formulas are usually milk-based, they are highly processed, which I personally believe to be a good thing for some dairy sensitive kids. (I have no medical reason backing up this theory; I just knows that my child reacted far better to regular, milk-based formula than my breastmilk, which leads me to think that the processing leads to a less harsh form of milk protein). On the other hand, if your child has no issue with dairy, then you’re sort of putting off the inevitable. The sooner you can break the formula addiction, the sooner you can have more liquid assets to, I don’t know, pay your mortgage or buy groceries. Kidding. Kind of.
So what’s the best toddler formula? That’s like asking what the best formula is… which is an impossible question. It’s all a matter of taste. I’d recommend using one with DHA/ARA, but other than that, they all seem to have the same basic nutritional composition. It’s also important to remember that you’re using this formula as supplemental nutrition, rather than the sole source of sustenance for your child – which means that a) you can relax and go for a cheaper brand if you want, and b) it’s still important to offer your kid lots of fresh, healthy foods. I am strong believer in a good weaning diet – it is part of my personal platform for why formula feeding is NOT responsible for childhood obesity. Regardless of what your baby drinks for the first 6 months of life, once you introduce solids, everything is fair game. You have choice in this, just like you have choice in how to feed your infant at the very beginning. You can choose to raise a child who is exposed to nutritious foods; one who has a healthy relationship with eating in general; and one who understands the joy in clean air and exercise.
One last hint: I’ve found that my son has a fickle appetite, and if I give him formula within 3 hours of a meal, he won’t eat any “real” food. By keeping the bottles to just before naptime (after he’s had breakfast and 3 hours before lunch) and bedtime, he will chow down – even if it’s only on his 4 foods of choice. This too shall pass…right?

Suzanne Barston is a blogger and author of BOTTLED UP. Fearless Formula Feeder is a blog – and community – dedicated to infant feeding choice, and committed to providing non-judgmental support for all new parents. It exists to protect women from misleading or misrepresented “facts”; essentialist ideals about what mothers should think, feel, or do; government and health authorities who form policy statements based on ambivalent research; and the insidious beast known as Internetus Trolliamus, Mommy Blog Varietal.

Suzanne Barston – who has written posts on Fearless Formula Feeder.

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18 thoughts on “Toddler formulas: What’s the deal?

  1. Thanks for this post. I have been trying to figure out the whole toddler formula lately. See our daughter is on soy, because she is allergic to milk. We made the decision for soy mostly because we could get it organic and that some how makes me feel better about giving her formula. The hypoallergenic kind we couldn't find organic, although I am sure that would have been fine too. But I have been reading lots about soy downfalls lately, so I feel like I want to try and reduce her soy in-take as much as possible. And there is no organic soy toddler formula that I can find that doesn't cost a fortune. So I know you said your son wouldn't drink any of the non-dairy alternatives- but based on your research is there one you would recommend over the others for us to try??

  2. @amoment2think-

    First of all – I didn't mean to scare you about the soy thing. I'm going to post on that later in the week, I promise – the research is really spotty, and frankly, I think the biggest problems are with boys, not girls… so please don't worry! We would've done the organic soy formula if my son could have tolerated it (he was sensitive to soy as well, although luckily he grew out of that). I am a HUGE fan of soy and practically live on it myself.

    However… simply b/c we are raising my son veggie, and the bulk of his protein will eventually come from soy, I wanted to use a different type of milk substitute. We have actually had the best luck with the unflavored oat milk (meaning he will at least drink a mix of half oat milk/half formula). I've also heard good things about hemp milk (even though one friend joked that I might as well get the kid his medical marijuana card if we're going that route). Rice milk is the easiest thing to find (the others are a bit tougher – Whole Foods carries them), but it can be a bit constipating, I've heard.

    Taste-wise, I think almond milk is AWESOME. My pedi wanted us to stay away from that until my son is two b/c of the nut allergy thing, but I'm not entirely convinced that is necessary. However, my son also doesn't like anything sweet, and almond milk has a sweeter taste – something that I think most kids would enjoy. The pedi also told me to try vanilla flavored or chocolate rice milk. Anything to get him to drink it!

    I would try the oat or rice milk first – there are a bunch of organic brands, and most are fortified with some calcium and other vitamins.. the one thing you'll be missing as opposed to whole milk or formula is the protein and fat, so you can get those nutrients in other ways – if your daughter eats fish or can take some sort of supplement you can get the DHA; as for protein, just make sure she's getting protein-rich foods like eggs or meats…

    I like the Pacific brand of milks – they make a really nice whole grain rice milk, and also a good oat milk. Also, at whole foods you can find some of these in the refridgerated section, and I've found that these have a richer taste than the boxed versions, so that might be worth a try.

    Let me know if you have any questions!

  3. Thank you for this post! My daughter is 10 months old, and a picky eater already. She had horrible GERD for the first 8 months, so eating is still a trying experience. My mom is always on my back about the utmost importance of 1.) Getting her off the bottle by one, and 2.) Switching her to cow's milk at one. Gabriella has never once held her own bottle, or tried to. She wants me to hold her and give her her bottle. Personally, I like this, and as long as she's willing to let me do this, we will continue (just as a breastfeeding mother might continue with nursing beyond a year, as long s the child is willing). She can't really hold her own sippy cup, either. I'm not sure if I should worry about this or not? As for the cow's milk, I wouldn't mind the monetary savings, but I just don't think she'd get enough vitamins from it and her minimal amount of solids. She's never been one to “fill up” on milk (or anything, really) so I'm not too worried there. I'm wondering though, if I should just switch her to cow's milk and give her a multivitamin, instead of the toddler formula? The other problem is that the ONLY formula she will take now is Kirkland Signature from Costco, she rejects all others. Apparently, the maker of the Kirkland formula is exclusive to Costco, and no other formula is equivalent in taste/texture. So, now I don't know if I should just let her continue with the Kirkland infant formula (since they don't make a toddler formula) for as long as we can. How long is it okay for a kid to continue using an infant formula? I've tried looking it up, and can't find anything.

  4. yes, it will pass. just keep offering a variety of healthy foods, without pressure to eat it. worked for us anyway!

    a thought: you can buy high quality DHA/ARA and add it to food/drink–so perhaps there's no need to buy expensive toddler formula for that reason alone. I'd say to just be sure to get a proper dosage (or even a recommended brand) from a doctor. a doctor recommended this course of action way back when stella's elecare did not have DHA and ARA included (we were later able to source it with DHA/ARA included). at one point we added DHA/ARA and high-quality probiotics to each bottle. (probiotics are now being added to formula, but i'm not sure of the quality of it, which does make a difference, according to a dietitian/nutritionist we consulted.) if the concern is over other key nutrients, a vitamin/supplement would be another way to handle it, it could allow more calories and nourishment to come from food.

    i'm lucky in that stella eats a decent variety of healthy foods (for now anyway), including eggs and ground flax and flax oil and little bit of fish. so she gets DHA and ARA from food. so i didn't see a need for formula after 1 year of age–besides, she hated the taste, and would only take it in a bottle (not a sippy). her severe milk protein intolerance was transitory. she's been drinking organic whole milk since 11 or 12 months of age. we both love it. hooray!

  5. Thanks for the post! I'm sort of afraid to venture into toddler formula when he reaches that age because he has had so many problems with formula in general. I wish they had a Similac Sensitive Go and Gro formula. I have a severe soy allergy so I won't give him soy formula.

    But maybe he'll out grow the lactose sensitivity or whatever it is before 12 months. He only does good on the Similac Lactose free version, the others cause tummy problems. I really hope so otherwise we'll stay on Similac Sensitive.

  6. @Finais-

    According to my pediatrician, you can keep your baby on infant formula up through 2 years, if that's all she will take. There's absolutely no harm in it. It is highly caloric, so the only concern would be if it was replacing solids or causing her weight to skyrocket from the extra calories, but in the case of a GERD kid, this is probably not an issue. I bet you have trouble getting enought calories in her, right? 🙂

    As for the bottles… I wouldn't worry too much about it. I feel the pressure too, but then I see plenty of kids around town still drinking bottles at 22 months. Apparently, my uncle wouldn't give up his bottle until he was six. He used to swig from it before he left for school while his friends waited downstairs. Eventually he realized how “babyish” it was and gave it up cold turkey. That's an extreme scenario, but you get the point.

    For dental reasons, the AAP wants us to get off bottles after a year, but I say that you just do the best you can. I try and offer sippy cups at meal times and limit the bottles to bedtime and naptime, but especially now that he's getting those awful molars, he often begs for the bottle for comfort. The way I see it, no doctor would tell a nursing mom that she needs to stop nursing her child for comfort just because he's one; if our babies find comfort in the bottle, then they should have that right.

    Hang in there – things change so quickly, and I bet one day she'll just wake up and ask for a “real” cup! Until then, just give her what feels right to you and to her.

  7. @I definitely don't think the bottle is that big a deal. I think the only people who would give you a hard time are people with no kids or people who got really lucky with their kids not getting attached to it. My daughter (also ten months!) is all about the pacifier, and I know she's gonna be one of those kids walking around with it, while people judge me for still letting her have it.

    It's interesting that you made the connection between cradling your daughter while giving her the bottle and breastfeeding because I was JUST thinking about that. People always talk about the amazing bond you get with your child from breastfeeding, and as a breastfeeding mother, I don't GET it. I've given her a bottle, and I've cuddled with her, and breastfeeding doesn't offer me a deeper or more spiritual connection with her. In fact, now that she likes to bite me, quite the opposite! I don't think it's fair to say that nursing past a year is great and normal, but using a bottle isn't.

  8. I just want to second almond milk as AWESOME. I don't drink milk, and I LOVE almond milk (I used to be a soy drinker and then a rice milk person, but I am fully converted). I get the nut allergy thing though.

    I have concerns about soy for both men and women. I think that if your diet isn't highly processed maybe it's less of a concern, but there is some research to suggest it interferes with endocrine regulation. I have tried cutting it nearly entirely out of my diet because of thyroid issues. I'm curious to hear your take on this S.

  9. I am looking forward to your post on soy. Don't worry, you didn't scare me. But I have been concerned about how much soy is in her diet for a while now. A bit of tofu or soy yogurt here or there would be no big deal.. but 28 oz a day of the stuff…. worries me.

    I am actually just in the process of writing a blog post about our current feeding challenges- so anyone that has some great ideas for us please head over to my blog and let me know your thoughts!

  10. I am getting to this post late. My 17 month old still takes a bottle before bedtime and nap. Its a nice cue that sleepy time is coming and, quite frankly, we both enjoy it. I love the snuggle time and I am pretty sure my son likes it too.

    We have no food issues (thank G-d) so we go back and forth between Target's toddler formula and Similac's Go & Grow. Similac has been on sale lately so of course, our last three containers were part of the beetlejuice recall. Saving old containers because I am convinced they can be repurposed finally paid off. I shared some from the full one with the two empties and returned all three. Entirely ethical? Probably not, but then I was a little pissed about the recall and thought making Abbott pay for the possibly beetle tainted formula I fed my kid was a fair form of protest.

    Anyhoo, a Facebook friend asked my whey I was feeding a toddler formula to my toddler. I thought this a dumb question, then I looked around the archives of a few of my crunchy mama forums and it turns out that some hardcore lactivists believe that toddler formula is just an evil plot to circumvent the WHO Code on marketing formula, because the code only applies to babies under a year.

    So apparently be feeding a toddler formula I am enabling Big Formula's anti-breastfeeding plan.

  11. iam 68 inches tall no weight issues still have most of my teeth…and good big ones lol…50 years old no high bp no high cholesterol infact no known desiese..born and raised in germany married to the same man 30 years ….AND i bottle fed till at least 5 years old in the morning and evening…my only son gave up his bottle at 30 month by himself….although my american mother in law insisted that i was crazy to let a baby have a bottle that long …well he is 6feet 5 inches healthy 25 college grad ….married and now i have a grand daughter AND she loves her baba and she gets her baba…..until she does not want her baba anylonger……have you folks ever considered that its because of wic and mothers working and needing day care …that pediatricions say…bottle has to be gone at 12 month…wic want to not hand out expensive formula anylonger ..and sorry jobs want low wage mothers …and day care is a for profit business …and sooo poor american babies have to act like a grown up at 12 month…if you see how a baby cries for his bottle after moms take it away …u wonder perhaps ..if its ok to breast feed a 3 year old its ok to give a two year old two bottle feedings a day …just my take on this

  12. Can't agree with your last point more, Maria. How is it okay for breastfed babies to comfort nurse, breastfeed till the age of 2-5 years old, and yet bottle-fed babies have to be introduced to the hard cold world sooner? Don't give me this thing about teeth, many babies don't even HAVE more than a few teeth at 12 months. IMO it's another way that formula-feeding parents are “punished” by the lactivists who control medical and social policy.

    I have thusfar followed my baby's cues…she's almost 18 months and is starting to reject the bottle, which is fine by me. We have not switched to a toddler formula for the same reasons as FFF–no real options for allergic children and a desire not to upset the apple cart after the trouble we went to to get this far.

  13. I know this is kind of an old post. But I wanted to let you and other mommies know that Nutramigen now makes a toddler formula for us “allergy mommies”!!! Ya!! I see it as a real blessing for my gluten intolerant, soy intolerant, lactose intolerant girly!

  14. I think new mothers should be taught CPR and how to say, “You are a meddlesome harridan” before leaving the hospital.

    Thanks for the site–love the California vegetarian comment.

  15. While our son does perfectly fine with whole milk now, we find that we can’t beat the convenience of toddler formula on the go! We cant throw a gallon of milk in the diaper bag but we can prepare a bottle of hot water and a formula dispenser! It has been a lifesaver when nap time occurs at church or on a long drive. I guess we are lucky because he isn’t picky about milk or formula.

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