Dr. Greene's Answer
For breastfed babies, the nutrition in the breast milk changes throughout the nursing experience. Breastmilk is quite different when the baby is 6 days old, 6 months old, and 18 months old. These changes happen gradually over time. Formulas come in a few different stages to try to address children’s changing nutritional needs as they grow.
Toddler formulas have many of the same vitamins and minerals found in infant formulas. The main difference between toddler and infant formulas is that toddler formulas contain a greater amount of calcium and phosphorus. They are designed to match the higher calcium and phosphorus levels children need as they grow, similar to the levels found in whole milk.
One benefit of formulas over whole milk is that many of them contain DHA, an important omega-3 fatty acid (that you would find in breastmilk). One way or another, getting DHA in the diet seems especially important in the first two years. If you think your child needs formula after the first year, switching to a toddler formula at that time is one way to accomplish this while providing her with the extra calcium and phosphorus she needs..
Toddlers don’t necessarily need formula, even if they don’t nurse. Children who are eating a balanced variety of healthy solids after the first birthday should be able to get the extra vitamins and minerals found in formula from their diets, perhaps with the added safety net of a multivitamin. If there is concern that your child is not eating an adequate amount of solids, formula will provide most of her nutritional needs while she is experimenting with solid food.
It is important not to force your child into eating more solids. For most kids, it’s okay for them to eat as much or as little as they want, chosen from healthy options. It will vary day by day. To encourage solids, offer them at least three times a day, preferably before a bottle.
For most kids, it’s best not to coax them to eat with moving the spoon like an airplane or with music or sound effects. They have an internal mechanism that tells them how much to eat that you want to keep intact. If you suspect it is not intact or there are serious food allergies complicating the picture, then it is usually best to work with a feeding specialist to learn how to encourage feeding while still keeping the child’s motivation strong.
She may be fine with 16 ounces of formula a day now. Or she may want 24 ounces. If she consistently takes more or less than that, run it by your pediatrician to be sure she is getting a good amount for her specific situation. At the one-year physical, you’ll get to see on the charts just how she is growing. And one way or the other, your darling baby is on the doorstep of toddling into a whole new stage of life. Bon appétit!