Stage 3 & 4 Formula | Helpful or Harmful?

Stage 3 & 4 Formula | Helpful or Harmful?

Written by: Jessica Kurosaki, Le Puree In House Dietitian 

Toddler Milks are a hot topic which cause a lot of confusion, so we’re here to shed our light on them, and the role they’re playing in our kid’s diets. 

Toddler Milks are usually sold as a ‘stage 3’ and even ‘stage 4’ milk- which look otherwise identical to stages 1 & 2 milks. Stage 1 and 2 formula milks are 0-6 months and 6-12 months respectively, and they’re an alternative for breast milk in that first year. Formula is loaded with vitamins, minerals, omega-3’s and antioxidants which mimics the nutrition benefits that babies would receive from breastmilk- to make them as close to identical as possible. They’re heavily regulated in Australia to be up to a high standard. 

After 12 months, babies can move on from formula to other drinks such as cow’s milk and water. Formula (unlike breastmilk) is no longer required at this stage, because their needs have changed (yet again!) and the stage 2 milk no longer provides the right mix of nutrition. 

Enter toddler milks, which have come onto the shelves and are labelled ‘stage 3’ milks, marketed to parents as a necessary progression from stage 2. 

Marketing these milks as a Stage 3 milk is wrapped up in a marketing scheme to have Australian parents buy more products that their children don’t need, which is why the World Health Organisation doesn’t support the need for Toddler Milks.

The nutrients listed: vitamin D, iodine and zinc - have been added to these milks from the long list of ingredients. 

Cow's Milk vs Toddler Milk 🥛

Cow’s milk contains excellent sources of calcium, B2, B5, B12, Iodine, Phosphorus and Potassium- to name a few. The protein in cow’s milk is roughly double that of a toddler's milk. The ingredients list on cow’s milk is short too (Ingredients: cow’s milk). 

Toddler milks have double the carbohydrate, and 1.5x the sugars when compared with cow’s milk…  not to mention these sugars have been added- whereas cow’s milk sugars are a naturally occurring sugar (because, one ingredient). The calories in a toddler's milk is approximately 4 times that of cow’s milk, and whilst we don’t count calories in children- we aim for calories to come from nutritious foods and a varied diet. 

Toddler Milk Downfalls 😅

These milks are sweet and addictive, having kids asking for more and more. This can have a serious impact on their appetite, meaning they will refuse their meals (whilst demanding more of these milks because they’re so sweet and easy to drink). A vicious cycle. 

Fussy eating is something we have seen too much of, and weaning off these sweetened beverages can be a step in the direction of curbing this!

As formula and toddler milks are usually offered in a bottle, they slow the progression of drinking from a cup, which is the recommendation as babies grow- and ensure proper development of those swallowing muscles and skills required for childhood. 

When babies are learning how to drink milk, they don’t need to exercise those skills of chewing and swallowing. When we introduce solids, those skills become extremely important, and vital for the rest of their eating lives. 

Relying on these toddler milks inhibits that skill, and leaves children relying on a liquid diet, which doesn’t support proper development of skills. 

Cost & Marketing 💰

None of this has mentioned the costs. The cost of a serve of these milks is ~4 times a serve of cow’s milk. The rising cost of living, and cost of fresh groceries is so prohibitive these days, we hope this can serve as one less thing on your shopping list! 

Additional Notes

Whilst children need nutrition from a variety of sources, this information is generic, and written for the majority of children who can obtain nutrients from a varied diet. 

If some children require an alternative source of nutrition due to personal or medical reasons, please liaise with your healthcare practitioner to make sure they’re suitable for your child.

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