Original title: Older kids don't need growing up milk

Infant milk formula, as its name implies, is meant for newborns – specifically those below one year of age and who are not fed breast milk.

It cannot imitate breast milk, which has the perfect nutritional balance in terms of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and amino acids, but is developed to be as close as possible to it.

After babies turn one, they can be given regular cow’s milk – the same as what adults would drink – and should get most essential nutrients from solid foods.

However, many children go on to drink milk formula marketed for toddlers and older children. There is no lack of such “growing-up milk” in supermarkets and shops.

These products could be labelled as stage two, for babies aged six months and above; or stage three and up, which are for babies aged 12 months and above. The exact age recommendations might be provided by the individual brands. Infant milk formula is sometimes called stage one formula.

Yet, such milk formula for older children is unnecessary and may even cause more harm than good.

Fortified or growing-up milk provides unnecessary added sugars to the diets of young children, according to the Britain-based First Steps Nutrition Trust.

These milk products generally have a higher sugar content from the addition of ingredients such as corn or glucose syrup solids and sucrose, said Dr Han Wee Meng, head of nutrition and dietetics at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Many brands also contain sweet flavourings like vanilla or honey, said Dr Han. This may encourage young children to prefer sweet tastes.

The added sugar in some brands of formula milk targeted at these children can range from 1.4g per 100ml to 8.7 g per 100ml, said First Steps Nutrition Trust.

As children aged one to three are advised to consume about 12g of added sugars daily, this means that a 400ml bottle of milk will provide almost all, or more than, the total free sugars recommended in the diet per day, it added.

Free sugars are simple sugars added by the manufacturer or consumer and include sugars that are naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends two to three servings of carbohydrates a day for children between one and two years of age. These can be half to one bowl of brown rice or four to six slices of wholemeal bread, for example.

Said Dr Han: “As these milk products also contain more protein than breast milk or unmodified cow’s milk, consuming them may reduce the toddler’s appetite for healthy, balanced meals.”

The average protein content in breast milk is 1.1g to 1.3g per 100ml. Infant formula has slightly more, at 1.2g to 1.7g per 100ml.

The toddler’s poor appetite may then be perceived by parents as “picky eating” and prompt them to feed the child more formula milk.

Dr Han added that the special nutrients that are usually added to formula milk to help distinguish the infant formula’s branding often lack sufficient evidence that they offer additional benefits.

“Moreover, more is not always better, and the additional micronutrients may place undue stress on the body’s metabolism,” she said.

For most children above one year of age, milk is a supplement to the daily diet to provide additional energy, protein and importantly, bone-building minerals, she said.

All other nutrients should be provided to the child through a varied and balanced diet.

The HPB recommends that a child aged one to two eats a balanced diet, including two to three cups of milk (500ml to 750ml) every day.