Toddler Milk or Formula? Beijing Mamas Respond

Which have you used for your toddlers here in China: milk or formula? During my research for my New York Times article I asked this question to the invaluable group of Beijing moms and dads on the Yahoo group Beijingmamas. Below are many of their answers which I thought many would find useful to read. This is a long post, spread out over a few pages, so sit back and enjoy. Please feel free to leave your own comments!


I have two kids, 6.5 and 8, born in the US and we came back when the younger one was just three months.

breast feeding formulaFor the younger one, I breastfed until he was 6 months and I had to go back to work.  We switched to formula but he was diagnosed with lots of allergies so we had to do that hypoallergenic formula called Neocate–worst tasting thing I’d ever encountered.  Though we didn’t give him fresh milk we gave him homemade yogurt.  Making yogurt is a good way to test the milk–bad milk doesn’t turn into yogurt.

I would have preferred to give him fresh milk after he turned one, but we had the allergy concern of course, and on top of that, we didn’t trust the quality of the milk here.  We’d read all these food books including Ominvore’s Dilemma and we didn’t even like most of the milk in the US.  For yogurt we’d only use either Green Yard or Wondermilk.  The marketing person for Wondermilk used to be on Beijing cafe and she’d talked about their operations.  We also trusted Green Yard because this other mom had seen their operations and Green Yard also supplies to some of the Chinese government agencies.  But later on I had read more about milk and apparently drinking milk is pretty controversial so my kids only do dairy in moderation, and when they do, they do whole milk.

Let’s talk about whole versus skim.  We’d recently read Gary Taubes’ book good calories and bad calories and I buy into his claim that one should watch out for carbs more than fat.  I don’t really see the point of giving kids skim milk–more attention should be paid to sweets and processed foods, the bit of fat won’t do anyone harm.

If/when we have another baby, and if we are still in Beijing, frankly I’d be confused, too.  I don’t even trust my own milk anymore, having breathed in, drank and eaten all this pollution, much less a local cow’s.  Every available choice here has its pros and cons.  All my local friends put their toddlers on foreign-made formula (which is quite a feat, given how difficult it is nowadays to smuggle I mean bring in foreign formula these days) because they don’t trust the milk here, fresh or powered.


Here’s my 2 cents:
1) I had never heard of giving a toddler formula before I moved here, we give him local milk.
2) I started with Wonder Milk but noticed a lot of people were buying the larger San Yuan milk so we switched to that (it’s much cheaper and always sells  out fast so I figured it is ok). Now we switch between the two brands, depending on what’s available.
3) whole milk as both my husband and myself grew up on it and still prefer it now.


We have a 2 1/2 year old and have used almost everything at some point. She was breastfed exclusively for 2 months and then I supplemented with Enfamil newborn due to my milk supply not being sufficient. We then gave her Enfamil infant along with breastmilk until six months of age. At six months she was given only Enfamil infant formula until one year of age. At one year we gave her a combination of cows milk and Enfamil toddler formula. The formula was mainly used when we were out or traveling due to not being able to get milk or keep it cold. She was given whole milk in the USA, but here when we first arrived I was giving her toddler formula and UHT milk from Germany due to the chinese milk not tasting right to me. We switched to Greenyards milk delivery service and she was being given whole milk until we recently started combining them so she has fewer calories. The hope is to switch to lowfat only within a couple of weeks.

The formula we used all came from the US as we were living there until she was 13 months old. My three and a half month old son is being breastfed almost exclusively. We had a breastfeeding strike and some formula was needed. I used Enfamil newborn formula.


I am a mother of 2.5 years old girl. Living in Beijing for 6 years now. Have been hearing/experiencing many food quality concerns in China is simple reason why next to ‘fresh milk’ – organic (whatever that word means here) I am giving my daughter still in the mornings and evenings formula for her age. Would never do that back home in Europe but here we are playing different game.

She is consuming fresh milk (Green Yard organic milk) with her breakfast/dinner with cereals….drinking…whatever she likes but still as a complementary for her nutrition she’s taking twice per day formula.

  1. What have you used for your toddler: breast milk, local milk, imported milk, or toddler formula (imported or local?)….
    Fresh milk (Green Yard), with meals and formula (Nestle NAN3 & Wyeth Gold Stage 3) both produced in China….I am working for Nestle and am fully aware of quality control process we have at our Dairy factories in China and fully trust it)

  2. What local dairy do you trust, if any? Green Yard organic farm


As you can probably guess, we are the “breast milk only” group at our house. 🙂

Our first child really set the tone for this. We had long suspected food and dairy allergy (later a confirmed dairy allergy but not till age 3.2) but I erroneously thought that Yogurt was ok. I was mixing up Lactose intolerance and Dairy protein allergy. Turns out she shouldn’t have been getting yogurt all along.

So for all our kids, just in case, we gave little/no milk at all. Especially since they all breastfed till age 3.5, 2.5 and 4 years of age (babies #1,#2 and #3 in that order. For those of you doing the math, yes I nursed #1 heavily throughout #2 pregnancy, and tandem nursed 1.5 years after that, then single nursed him another year). The younger kids almost had no milk products at
all until much much later an age.

Still, even at age 9, 7 and 4, all the kids only drink oat milk, rice milk, almond milk, Sunflower milk, etc. and no cow’s milk unless it’s a small amount in a recipe occasionally – even that I do my best to avoid. (I have cow’s milk in the house cos nothing whitens coffee the same IMO) . The kids had yogurt, cheese and dairy ice cream only a handful of times, almost never…., the rest of the time it’s soy ice cream for the occasional treat – at City Shop, Jenny Lou’s, etc. and it’s surprisingly delicious… . yes I’m well aware of the problems with soy but when you have a confirmed dairy allergy to one kid, a) I assume the others could very well be allergic too, and b) even if they don’t, it’s not fair so I tend to give the same treats that are allowed.


My toddlers drank breast milk and regular cow milk. I am very concerned about the use of powdered milk, which is basically junk food for toddler. It’s maddening. The blame lies with the artificial milk manufacturers and their aggressive marketing (in defiance of the WHO regulations), women are brainwashed into thinking that a highly processed powder is better than the real thing. I lived in the Philippines for 4 years and it was even worse there…really sad. Not much you can do, but boycott those unethical companies…I’m on year #12 of a Nestle boycott.


We adopted our daughter at age 13 months here, she is now 18 months. When we got her she was very undernourished and underweight. We gave her stage 2 and then stage 3 milk, which we are still using now. We bought all our milk powder in the uk, so are not concerned about safety (and its 3-4 times cheaper there than here). A few months back, her doctor at BJU recommended we continue using toddler milk for the time being given its nutritional content compared to cows milk (eg iron content). Our daughter now has a voracious appetite for a wide range of healthy solid foods as well as getting through about 500ml of formula a day, and is almost up to the 50th percentile in terms of weight for age. One small issue is that she seems to have slightly smaller red blood cells which the doctor said might indicate she needs more iron (despite the large amounts of iron rich meat she gets through).

If you have any advice as to when you think we should start the transition to cows milk, feel free to let us know. We are trying to balance several factors – iron content in formula vs. fat content in cows milk (which we understand is good for toddlers), plus of course the safety of imported formula vs. the risk of locally bought cows milk.


My child is 10 1/2 months old and I plan on adding a little bit of regular whole milk (local) to her formula.  Slowly and over time,  I’ll start adding more and more until I have finally transitioned her to regular whole milk by the time she hits one.  Although I am still considering toddler formula but I’m leaning more towards regular milk.  From a lot of the women I’ve chatted with in my group on babycenter.com, I’ve learned that more parents are doing toddler formula as opposed to regular milk b/c according to them, regular milk doesn’t contain all the nutrients essential for baby development that the formula is laced with (i.e, iron).  This is especially important if the child is still heavily dependent on milk as opposed to deriving other essential nutrients from solid food .  But my child is doing pretty well with solid food and I give her a multi-vitamin supplement everyday so this really isn’t a concern for me.


I breastfed my baby for 15 months (but it was only once per day after 12 mths). In that time I topped him up with small amounts of formula (always shipped in privately from the uk) due to low milk supply and also a small bottle of formula as a dream feed from about 4-11mths, with the occasional bottle to substitute other feeds when necessary.

I started to wonder if formula really was all that good for him around 13/14 months and switched immediately to goats and cows milk (hedging my bets a bit I guess) – goats milk in the morning, cow at night. We didn’t do it gradually, he just accepted the new tastes immediately.

The goats milk is from Mongolia and I order it from TooToo in boxes of 12x240ml cartons with straw which are very convenient.

Cows milk is full fat green Yard. I don’t give him anything else in china but on planes /in hotels outside china accept local brands as its usually not much.

I was told by pediatricians (western) to only give babies full fat dairy so thus what I’ve done though for my husband and I we take low fat.


  1. Both my kids had breastmilk till 1 yr old. No 1 went on to formula and continued till 4+. No 2 went straight to milk. Just a personal opinion, but I think whether you give formula or milk is very cultural. Cultural as in the sense, what docters in your country tell you and what everyone else is doing. Perhaps linked back to how well formula is marketed?

Kid no 1 grew up in Singapore where formula is viewed as more nutritious than milk. When i came to China, I decided I’ll rather bring in other more important stuff in my luggage than formula, hence both kids switched to milk. It also felt ok to me as most western mommies I knew here felt milk was sufficient and there wasn’t anyone to point fingers at me if my toddler didn’t drink formula. My new pediatrician was of also of the view that nutrients in formula aren’t as well absorbed anyway.

I still stick to imported UHT milk due to food safety concerns in China and also because the boutique organic fresh milk here was simply too expensive for us.

  1. Greenyard, Asahi, Wondermilk? But I cannot bear to pay for them.

  2. Whole, I’m Asian and there isn’t such a big concern about obesity back home.


We have been feeding our 2-y.o. (now 3-y.o.) the local organic Green Yard farm Whole milk (only). We weaned her off formula and on to Organic Whole milk in the US at around 18 months. So when we got here, we looked for a local alternative. We do supplement her diet with DHA; and multivitamins because she is a poor eater.

I went from breastmilk to formula because the breastmilk supply wasn’t adequate, and as most mothers have pointed out, formula was heavily pushed by US hospitals (provided in gift bags in maternity wards, and even fed to the infant in the first few days). However, my daughter would throw up most formulas. As I am lactose intolerant, I took this as a sign that she might be too. So we put her on Similac Alimentum which has the milk proteins broken down in a more digestible format, the only formula she drank heartily. Only after she turned one, we slowly introduced her to cow’s milk — whole organic cow’s milk, and she took well to it. I have kept her on whole milk despite our US paed’s recommendation to switch to low fat after she turned 2. I don’t intend to change that unless she is showing signs of obesity. Right now, she is a healthy and active skinny young thing.


Background information: My son is 29 months old. We moved to China when he was 14 months.
1. My son received only breast milk until he was 1 years old. At 1 year, he started to drink some cow’s milk in addition to breast milk. He was weaned from breast milk at 26 months. In China we have used almost exclusively imported milk. When we travel, we occasionally use local milk, but generally of the UHT variety.
2. I don’t trust any local dairy, but will let him drink local milk if there is no other option.
3. We used imported whole milk until he was about 26 months, at which point we started to use milk with approximately 2% fat content; however, he will occasionally drink my skim milk or drink whole milk.


I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog since I discovered it about 3 years ago and I’d like to thank you for giving lots of good advice to this occasionally anxious new Mum.So here’s my two cents.

My son – now almost 3.5 years old was breastfeeding exclusively until 6 months and then breastfeeding quite a lot until his first birthday. We introduced whole cow’s milk – I only gave Greenyard organic milk at first – around his first birthday and the breastfeeding started declining, I can’t quite remember the timing but by his second birthday I’m pretty sure we were only breastfeeding when he woke up, before his nap and before bed. He kept this pattern with breastfeeding until quite recently, about 3 years and two months. The extended breastfeeding came about not due to any particular adherence to attachment parenting doctrines on my part but simply because it was easy and comfortable and comforting for both. I also though he could do with the extra nutrition and it was also very comforting to know he would always take breastmilk when he was sick and off his food. I was hoping my son would wean himself but I eventually made a big effort to stop completely because I fell pregnant and breastfeeding became too uncomfortable.

My son has also drunk increasing amounts of milk since we first introduced it after his first birthday. He now drinks quite alot – often two cups a day. We usually give imported UHT because it is the most cost effective. I also give Greenyard unsweetened yoghurt. I trust the Greenyard brand most of all of the local milks. I usually give my son whole milk because he has a naturally long and lean build, and I figure he can do with the extra fat. His Daddy is built the same way and I was also relatively lean until my current pregnancy, so the whole family drinks whole milk.

I also have a few comments about the toddler milk formulas, based on my experiences. I’m married to Beijing man and my in-laws are quite traditional Chinese. They absolutely do not trust any milk made in China and they were never quite completely reassured that my breast milk alone was sufficient for a baby. However, they were totally sold on the benefits of Bellamy’s Organic Toddler Milk Formula for my son and always made a big push for us to get some whenever a relative visited Australia. I’ve never used it because I think it’s completely unnecessary and possibly even detrimental, but I think my in laws always felt I was depriving my son. I’m not sure why. They are big believers in taking supplements and vitamins as well. Maybe this is why?


I am Australian and have three children (all born there). The first (due to poorly diagnosed thrush) was bottle fed formula from six weeks, the subsequent children were breastfed until about 8 months old (with the occasional formula bottle feed in that time). All three of them had minor dairy intolerances and as such had different formulas given to achieve the right balance for them. It was not so much of an issue with the third baby as he was almost exclusively breastfeed. All three children began solid food at about 5 months and I slowly introduced dairy into their diets. They were all on dairy from about 8 months with no problems whatsoever and drank cows milk from then on (they love it). Bottles were all given up by the age of one and the issues surrounding formula/milk were resolved as they ate and drank like the rest of us.
I have never believed the hype around toddler formulas, the advertising actually makes me laugh!
In Australia we drank local supermarket brands of milk (full fat for the kids), here we drink Sanyuan brand, it tastes different to home but the kids like it and it seems to be consistent and problem free. I cannot afford the organic brands here, but I didn’t get them at home either. We drink either the full fat or low fat (not skim) versions.


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