Soy milk, rice milk and nut milks are not meant for babies to drink and you should not offer these milks to toddlers unless you consult with your pediatrician.
Rice Milk and Soy Milk for Infants and Toddlers - What You Should Know About Offering Babies and Toddlers Rice Milk, Soy Milk or Nut Milks
Rice Milk, Soy Milk and Nut Milk should never be confused with (or used as a replacement for) breast feeding or infant formula, and care should be taken when replacing whole cow milk. These alternative "milks" do not have the right amount of nutrients needed to sustain healthy growth. These milks should not be offered to a baby under 12 months of age and you should consult your pediatrician about introducing them.
You should never switch your infant from a soy based formula to plain soy milk. It is most important to distinguish the difference between a soy formula and soy milk; soy formula is formulated to contain the nutrients babies need to grow while soy milk is not.
Infant formulas are based on whole cow milk; whole cow milk contains a variety of nutrients that are among those crucial to building good health in babies and toddlers. Many of these nutrients are not naturally occurring in alternative "milks" and while these milks may be fortified, fortification with nutrients seldom leaves these nutrients as bio-available as those that are natural.
Soy Milk, Rice Milk and Whole Cow Milk - The Differences
Whole cow milk contains natural calcium that is more easily absorbed and bio-available than calcium from other sources. It contains the "good" fats that are crucial to both infant and toddler development; a reason why pediatricians recommend whole milk, and not low fat, for a minimum of the first 2-3 years of age. Whole cow milk is also a great source of protein, another nutrient that is crucial in healthy development. Vitamin A and B12, along with some other B Vitamins, are also found in whole milk and these vitamins are essential in sustaining proper growth.
Rice Milk in particular is low in fat which is not recommended for those under 2 years of age and it is also low in (if not completely devoid of) protein. "It contains more carbohydrates as compared to cow’s milk, but less protein and calcium and no cholesterol and lactose. Commercial brands are often fortified with Vitamins A and D, some B vitamins, calcium and iron." rich rice milk
Why Soy Milk May Not Be Good for Toddlers
Soy milk contains a lower level of fats than cow milk.
"Low-fat soy milk and rice milk contain low levels of fat and protein. If these products are used parents must be sure children are getting adequate fat and protein from other dietary sources. Infants get adequate fat and protein from breast milk or infant formula. Full-fat soy milk is generally recommended for young children. Breastfeeding a child during the second year of life helps assure adequate fat and protein intake as well." ¹ Please note there is no such thing as "full-fat" soy milk as there is full-fat cow milk. The highest amounts of fat would be found in "regular" soy milk, one that is not labeled low-fat.
Soy milk does not contain an adequate amount of natural calcium that babies and toddlers need nor does it contain the level of fat and protein [that whole cow milk does]. Soy milk may also hinder the absorption of calcium even though it may be calcium fortified due to the phylates that it contains. "Regular" soy milk contains 4grams of fat per 8 ounces while the "light" or "low-fat" soy milk contains only 2 grams of fat per 8 ounces. soyfoods.com Whole cow milk contains 8 grams of fat per 8 ounces. Remember, the AAP recommends that children continue to have full-fat dairy products until the age of 2 years.
If my child has a dairy allergy, can Soy, Rice or Nut Milks be Used?
If you find that your older infant or toddler may have an allergy to dairy - either a milk protein allergy or a sensitivity to lactose, or that you simply wish to exclude dairy products from your diet, using these "alternative" beverages as substitutes may be good options, with a few caveats!
Keeping in mind all the deficiencies of these alternative milks for toddlers and children, you may offer your toddler or older child these substitues but never give infants these milks! If you decide to skip whole cow milk, should ensure your child receives calcium, fats, proteins and vitamins and minerals from other natural sources. Offering your toddler these "milks" as an occasional drink should not pose any adverse health risks as long as you realize that these drinks are not enough to provide optimal nutrition.
You should consult your pediatrician and/or a pediatric dietician to discuss ways to ensure that your infant or toddler receives the nutrients crucial to his or her healthy development.
I want to wean my 4-month-old to rice milk, but my doctor says formula is the right choice. What should I do?
"Your doctor is right. Fortified rice milk can be an acceptable alternative beverage for older children. But using it now as your daughter's only source of nourishment could lead to serious and potentially irreversible nutritional deficiencies", says Dr. Judy Hopkinson, a lactation physiologist with the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.
To understand why rice milk is not recommended for infants, compare its ingredient list and Nutrition Facts label to that of infant formula. Rice milk contains only water, rice, oil and salt. It has no iron or other added minerals except calcium and the only added vitamins are D, A and B-12.
It is also low in protein and essential fats. On the other hand, FDA regulations require that infant formulas contain the full nutritional banquet known to be essential for infant health. So, if you need to wean, go with formula. It is the only healthy alternative to breast milk for infants under one year of age. USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine Baylor College of Medice
Resources and Learning More About Alternative Milks: