For the first 6 months of life, a baby’s sole source of nutrition should be breastmilk or infant formula. As babies grow and begin eating solid foods, the only two fluids young children need are milk and plain water.

“Babies can start to have water between 4-6 months when you introduce a tippy cup,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “For toddlers through about age 5, we recommend that water be the primary drink for kids during the day.”

Water provides the hydration young children need and milk provides essential nutrients for growing bodies, including calcium and vitamin D. Sweetened drinks including soda, flavored milks and even fruit juice should be avoided.

“Even if it says 100% fruit juice, that is a lot of sugar. Even though its natural sugar, that is not nutritionally good for kids. It’s also really tough on their teeth,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

What about plant-based milks?
If your child cannot have cow’s milk due to a dairy allergy or milk intolerance, there are alternatives; however, it’s important to know that most plant-based milks are not nutritionally equivalent to cow’s milk and may lack important nutrients.

“The ones that pediatricians generally recommend as alternatives are either soy milk or almond milk. If you think for some reason your child cannot have cow’s milk or cow’s milk products, this is an appropriate conversation to have with your child’s doctor.”

Check out this list of frequently asked questions regarding alternatives to cow’s milk.

How much water and milk do children need daily?

  • 6 months-1 year: 4-8 ounces of water per day because the rest of their liquids are coming from breastmilk or formula.
  • 1-3 years: Approximately 4 cups of beverages per day, including water or milk.
  • 4-8 years: Around 5 cups of beverages per day, including water and milk.
  • Older children: 7-8 cups of total water and milk consumption.

The amount of your children’s daily water consumption may need to be adjusted depending on their level of activity as well as increased heat and humidity.

How much fat content in milk is recommended for kids?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children stay on whole milk until they are two years of age, unless there is a reason to switch a baby to low-fat milk sooner. Whole milk contains approximately 4% milk fat. It may help to gradually switch your child from whole milk to a lower-fat milk. Therefore, many pediatricians recommend that children get reduced fat (2%) milk for a few weeks before switching them to low fat (1%) or no fat (skim) milk.

Establish healthy habits early
Studies have shown that children who drink mostly water and plain milk when they’re young continue drinking them as they grow older. However, young children who are introduced to other types of drinks that contain sugar or caffeine tend to prefer them over milk or water, making it more difficult to encourage consumption of healthier beverages. Lead by example and make daily water and milk drinking a habit for you and your kids, and the whole family will reap the benefits!