Cow’s milk is a popular beverage for children of all ages.

It’s frequently marketed to parents as a way to enhance their child’s growth, but you may wonder whether there’s scientific evidence to support this claim.

This article explores the evidence behind milk’s potential effects on childhood growth, when to introduce milk into your child’s diet, and how much is too much.

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Milk has long been associated with growing up to be big and strong.

One of the first scientific studies evaluating milk’s relationship to childhood growth was conducted in 1928. It estimated a 20% increase in weight and height among children who drank milk, compared with those who didn’t (1).

More recent research focusing on milk’s effect on childhood growth has yielded mixed results, especially when socioeconomic factors, such as income and access to nutritious foods, are considered.

A recent study associated milk consumption with a 1.9% lower risk of stunted growth in children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years (2).

Interestingly, the association was stronger among children living in developed countries who had more reliable access to other nutrient-dense foods (2).

Experts assume that the positive links between milk intake and childhood growth are at least partially due to the variety of nutrients it provides (3).

Milk contains many essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin A — all of which are important for growth during childhood. Some milk products are also fortified with vitamin D (3).

Milk also stimulates the production of a hormone known as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is intimately involved in the growth and development of bone and muscle tissue (4).

That said, it’s worth noting that these nutrients are not exclusive to milk. If milk is not available or you choose not to include it in your child’s diet, you can obtain those nutrients from other foods.

However, milk is one of the most affordable and convenient options for many families to obtain many growth-promoting nutrients. As such, it can be an important part of a healthy diet for growing children.


Milk intake is associated with increased growth in children, most likely due to the presence of growth-promoting nutrients like protein, calcium, and IGF-1.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that beverage options for children 12 months and older are limited to breast milk or infant formula, water, and plain milk (5).

But that doesn’t mean you should offer an unlimited supply of cow’s milk to your kids, as drinking too much may be harmful.

Research suggests that drinking milk before 12 months of age, or drinking over 2 cups (500 mL) per day for children over 12 months, may lead to impaired iron absorption and anemia (6).

Anemia is a condition in which there aren’t enough red blood cells in your blood, resulting in an impaired ability to carry oxygen throughout your body.

Thus, if you’re planning to include milk in your child’s diet, wait until they’re at least 1 year old and limit their intake to no more than 2 cups (500 mL) per day.


Milk shouldn’t be introduced until a child is at least 12 months old, and they shouldn’t drink more than 2 cups per day (500 mL).

Milk is a nutrient-rich beverage that may support healthy growth patterns in children.

It’s an affordable and convenient source of several nutrients important for growing bodies, such as protein, calcium, and zinc. That said, these nutrients can also be obtained from other foods.

If you plan on providing milk for your kids, you should wait until they’re at least 1 year old, as introducing milk too early may increase the risk of iron deficiency.

After your child turns 1 year old, their milk intake should be limited to 2 cups (500mL) per day.