Can I give my toddler soy or rice milk instead of cow’s milk?

True allergies to cow’s milk are relatively uncommon — only 2 to 3 percent of children are allergic to milk, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and 95 percent of them outgrow it by age 3.

If your child drank cow’s-milk-based formula as a baby without any problems, you can rest easy that he’ll have no problems tolerating regular cow’s milk. Even babies who were exclusively breastfed for the first year can usually handle regular cow’s milk because they’ve been exposed to cow’s milk protein in their mother’s milk (unless their mothers avoided all dairy).

If your child drank soy formula because your doctor recommended it, though, check with your doctor before starting him on cow’s milk. She may recommend that you start with a soy beverage that’s been fortified with vitamin D and calcium. A follow-up formula, made for toddlers, can also be a good choice. Rice milk, on the other hand, is not a good choice for toddlers because it’s usually low in protein, calcium, and B vitamins.

Still, it never hurts to arm yourself with information. The main symptoms of milk allergy are blood in the stool, diarrhea, and vomiting. If your child also develops eczema, hives, a rash around the mouth and chin, chronic nasal stuffiness, a runny nose, cough, wheezing, or breathing difficulties, it could be a sign that the respiratory system is being affected by a milk allergy. If your toddler develops any of these symptoms, talk with his doctor.

If it turns out that your toddler is allergic to cow’s milk, you’ll want to be careful to avoid foods such as cottage cheese, condensed and evaporated milks, ice cream, yogurt, margarine that contains milk, butter, milk chocolate, and powdered milk. And read labels for sources of cow’s milk protein, like casein and whey.

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