Refusing milk from a cup

The Pediatric Insider

© 2009 Roy Benaroch, MD


Analise is trying to get her daughter to continue drinking milk: “My daughter is 14 months old and will only drink milk from a bottle. We introduced a sippy cup at 9 months but made the mistake of only putting water in it. Now she associates the cup with water and the bottle with milk. We’re in the process of weaning her from the bottle but don’t know how to convince her to drink milk from a cup. Do you have any tips or is it just try, try again until she accepts it? Thanks for any behavioral insight or advice!”


First, let me get myself in trouble with the dairy council and moms everywhere by letting this secret out: there is no essential need for toddlers to drink milk. It’s a good source of protein and calcium, sure, but there are plenty of other good sources. Lots of children stop drinking milk, and many adults never touch the stuff. There’s no reason to consider milk something crucial for children to drink once they’re outside of the young baby years and able to take solids well.


At fourteen months, whether or not your child is willing to drink milk from a cup, you ought to stop using baby bottles. They’re bad for her teeth, and they’re preventing her from developing normal eating habits. Don’t worry that your child won’t get enough fluids—she’ll drink water, and she will not become dehydrated without milk.


Though milk isn’t essential, it’s handy and most children continue to drink it. There are, of course, tricks worth trying to get her to drink milk from a cup:


  • Add a little milk to the water in a cup, and day-by-day start adding more milk and less water. In a few weeks, you can wean up to full strength milk. Do this gradually and maybe she won’t notice.
  • Add something to the milk to make it extra tasty: chocolate syrup, or maybe a mashed-up, very soft banana. Little girls (and boys) deserve a little chocolate in their lives.
  • Try a different sort of cup, like one with a straw—maybe even a crazy bendy cool straw.
  • Make sure she sees you and dad drinking milk from a cup. You two can even use sippy cups for a little while. If parents don’t drink milk, children are far less likely to want it.
  • If you’ve been using whole milk, give 2% or skim a try. Older advice did recommended whole milk, but that’s not necessary.
  • Try a different sort of milk, like soy or almond milk. These provide similar amounts of protein and calcium as cow’s milk. Rice milk, on the other hand, is a low-protein beverage more similar to juice than milk—stay away from it if you’re looking for something with nutritional value for your children.


What to do during the transition? Don’t worry about it. There is no reason a child can’t go weeks or months or even years without milk. If your daughter gets the impression that milk is something very special and important, she’s less likely to touch the stuff—this is called “yanking your parents’ chain,” a skill that all children learn sooner or later. Don’t get caught up in the drama by letting her know you’re worried about this. Win the chain-yanking match by dropping your end.


If in the long run your daughter still won’t touch milk, you’ll need some other good calcium sources:


  • Any other dairy: cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese, ice cream
  • Calcium fortified juices
  • Calcium supplements, like the little chocolate squares marketed for women as Viactive
  • Non fat dry milk powder. Don’t mix this in water to try to drink it—blecch—but sprinkle it in casseroles, soups, eggs, sauces, that kind of thing. Once it mixes in it’s just about impossible to taste. Think of it as cheap calcium –n- protein powder.


Try some simple tricks to see if you can get your daughter back on milk, but remember there is no hurry here, and this is not a crucial or even a very important issue. Milk is easy and cheap, but there are many other nutritious things your daughter can take that can replace milk if she’s decided she just won’t drink it any more.

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11 Comments on “Refusing milk from a cup”

  1. Samantha Says:

    I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you for pointing out that milk is NOT necessary. As the mom of a dairy-allergic toddler, I constantly run into this misconception from others. I’m always trying to point out that it’s the nutrients milk provides that are important and not the milk itself (and that those nutrients are available elsewhere). And that much of the world doesn’t drink milk! Thank you! (Love the website, by the way.)


  2. Analise Wells Says:

    Thank you very much, Dr. Roy for the tips and the reassurance. Your blog and advice is much appreciated!


  3. Analise Wells Says:

    My 15 month old daughter is becoming a very picky eater. She doesn’t like and won’t eat meat. I made sure to give her a wide variety of foods when she was younger to try to avoid this problem. Unfortunately, she is rejecting many of the foods she used to like – even cheese ravioli, beans, butternut squash. Do you have any insight into why she may be rejecting foods that she used to eat? I could really use some advice. I read in one of your other posts not to let them dictate what’s for dinner – try to get them to eat what is served. It’s hard though when I put her dinner in front of her and she cries and knocks it onto the ground. She does eat breakfast and lunch much better than dinner thank goodness.


  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Analise, I could guess why she might be rejecting these foods. She’s 15 months, and wants to exert some independence; she likes deciding things on her own now, and you’re going to be seeing a lot more of that! Her growth is starting to slow, so she may need smaller amounts of food intake now– if you’re still giving her big portions, it will be more tempting for her to pick out her favorites and toss the rest.

    Start by checking in with your pediatrician. Is she growing as expected? If she is, then there is no problem– or at least, your baby has no problem. It’s you who has to give up this idea that it’s your job to get her to eat more, or to decide what she eats, or how much she eats. Your job is only to offer foods that are nutritious in a socially acceptable manner, and then step back and let her decide whether to eat it, and how much to eat.

    Take a look at this post: You can win this fight by dropping the rope, and not fighting at all!


  5. Analise Wells Says:

    Thanks, Dr. Roy. I appreciate the feedback and the link to the article. We’ll try serving platters and not talking about food. She went from the 8th to the 5th percentile for weight, but she’s always been small. Dr. Michelle said not to worry at our 15 month appointment as she’s just petite.


  6. stoicglee Says:

    I am having the same problem. I feel much less worried after having read this post. Thank you.


  7. Amy Hazlett Says:

    I think there is a typo under the dry milk section. It should not say “bleach”.


  8. Dr. Roy Says:

    Thx, fixed!


  9. Rachel McKee Says:

    Thank you for posting this question. My son is also 14 months old and refuses to drink milk from a sippy cup. He eats plenty of eggs, cheese, and yogurt. But I didn’t want to take his bottle away bc I wanted him to drink milk too.


  10. Rachel Parrish Says:

    Thank you for this post as my daughter refuses to drink milk from anything but a bottle. She is 14 months old and loves drinking water from her straw sippy cup but can see when i put milk in it and refuses it, even when I have added chocolate. However, I may try adding it to water like you suggested and see what happens. She eats yogurt everyday, but she is still very choosy about the other things she eats. She loves baby food and is not picky with it, if its pureed she will eat it. She also eats crunchy snacks like cheerios, cheezits, veggie straws, and goldfish. She will even eat potato or tortilla chips. My biggest concern was since the transition to getting her to eat more table food has been so hard that she wasn’t getting enough calcium as she should. Specifically since she has been refusing eggs and cheese. Thoughts on if she is ok to not drink milk or advice on getting her to eat more solid foods other than snacks?


  11. Deliah Says:

    I finally took the bottle away from my 2 year old . She refuses to drink from a sippy cup or any cup. Should I be worried? Daycare says the same thing. She won’t drink anything.


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