Risks of Toddlers Drinking Too Much Milk

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Q. My son is 21 months old and I am concerned that he may be drinking too much milk. Is this possible? He is a good eater and eats very healthy, but he loves milk (he is on homogenized milk). He can drink anywhere from four to six 8oz sippy cups of milk per day. I was not too concerned about it at first as he was a big baby at birth weighing in at 10lbs 3oz and continued to be above his growth chart, but now that he is older I am concerned. I have researched your site and other articles and all of them give the recommended daily intake but there is no information on the effects of drinking too much milk. I am concerned about his digestive system and if too much milk can harm him. Can you please give me some information on this subject? Jennifer, Canada

A. Milk is usually considered to be very good for you, and it is a good source of protein, fat, vitamin D, and calcium, at least for those children who don't have a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance.

But you can get too much of a good thing.

Too Much Milk and Constipation

One common problem when kids drink too much milk is constipation. In fact, one of the first questions I often ask when kids are constipated is how much milk they drink.

In addition to not having any fiber itself, kids who drink too much milk often get filled up drinking milk and might eat fewer foods that might be high in fiber.

This can especially be a problem for toddlers and preschoolers who drink much more than 16-24 ounces of milk each day.

Too Much Milk and Obesity

In addition to constipation, another big problem of drinking too much milk is all of the extra calories that they are getting. These extra calories usually either cause a child to be full and not want to eat many other nutritious foods or if they are still eating well, then all of the extra calories can lead to their becoming overweight.

Consider that he is drinking 32 to 48 ounces of milk each day, which at 19 calories per ounce, means that he is getting about 600 to 900 calories just from milk. And that is 1/2 to 2/3 of the estimated 1300 calories that a toddler needs each day.

Plus if your child also drinks a lot of juice, he could be getting almost all of the calories he needs from the milk and juice he is drinking, even though that wouldn't provide him with the right mix of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.

Too Much Milk and Iron Deficiency

Another big problem is that toddlers who drink too much milk are often at risk for iron deficiency anemia. Again, this is usually because milk doesn't have any iron in it, and because if they fill up on milk, then they often don't eat many other iron rich foods either.

I recently saw a toddler with severe iron deficiency anemia, who ended up requiring a blood transfusion, and the problem ended up being that he was drinking too much milk and not eating enough healthy foods. The Pediatric Hematologists in our area say that they see it very often too.

What To Know About Drinking Too Much Milk

Other things to know about drinking too much milk include that:

  • If you decide that it is necessary, an easy way to cut back on his milk intake is to simply not fill up his sippy cups. Instead of 8 ounces in the cup, just put 5 or 6 ounces. And then maybe stick to just 3-4 cups per day.
  • Switch to low-fat milk once your child is two years old.
  • Talk to your pediatrician for extra help if your child doesn't seem to eat foods with texture and prefers to drink all of his calories, as he might have a food aversion.

    On the other hand, if your child doesn't have an iron deficiency (your pediatrician can do a blood test to check for anemia), eats well, isn't constipated, and is gaining weight normally, even if he is off the charts, then drinking so much milk isn't as concerning.


    American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Diagnosis and Prevention of Iron Deficiency and Iron-Deficiency Anemia in Infants and Young Children (0-3 Years of Age). Pediatrics 2010; 126: 1040-1050.

    American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Prevention of Rickets and Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Pediatrics Vol. 122 No. 5 November 1, 2008. pp. 1142 -1152

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