Babies who have cow’s milk too early may be at risk. For at the first year of life, the only milk most babies really need is breast milk.
Some babies may have medical needs or other special circumstances that make supplementation with cow’s milk before the first birthday necessary. In that case, you should start introducing cow’s milk when your baby’s doctor recommends it.
If your baby doesn’t require supplementation with cow’s milk early, you should plan to give your baby the first taste of milk sometime in the second year of life. Many babies continue to breastfeed even when solid food is first introduced. Exactly when you start offering milk depends on a variety of factors. Like most parenting issues, this is a personal decision that you should make with the health and wellbeing of your baby in mind.
When Can Breastfeeding Babies Drink Milk?
Medical professionals from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recommend introducing milk once the following qualifications are met:
- Your baby is at least one year old
- Your baby is ready to start weaning off breast milk
Cow’s milk is considered a replacement for the calcium that your baby received from your breast milk before weaning. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stresses that whole milk is best because it contains fat, which growing babies need for healthy brain development.
If your baby starts to wean from the breast around his first birthday, that’s the perfect time to start supplementing with milk. If your baby continues to breastfeed until the second birthday or beyond, you may choose to delay the introduction of milk as long as breast milk is plentiful and satisfying.
You may also choose to give your baby a bit of cow’s milk each day even while breastfeeding beyond the first birthday. That’s a good way to get your baby accustomed to the taste of cow’s milk while they’re still babies. Just make sure that you don’t overfeed the cow’s milk this early in life.
What Happens If You Give A Baby Cow’s Milk Too Early?
There are two reasons you don’t want to give your baby cow’s milk before their first birthday:
- Cow’s milk isn’t a substitute for your breast milk. Your milk contains a variety of nutrients and antibodies that aren’t present in cow’s milk. Newborns can’t thrive on cow’s milk alone, so they need formula or breast milk for early development and growth.
- The digestive system is developing and gaining strength in the first year of life. Many newborns will struggle to properly digest the fat and protein in cow’s milk. That doesn’t mean that your baby is allergic or intolerant of milk. It just means that their digestive system isn’t ready for that introduction.
Inexperienced mothers or those lacking knowledge sometimes assume that all milk is equal. That may lead to giving cow’s milk in the place of breast milk in the first year of life, which could result in the baby’s failure to thrive. Never underestimate the importance of the nutrient and antibodies provided by your breast milk.
Tips for Adding Milk to Your Baby’s Diet
* Start with just an ounce or two of milk in a sippy cup. Watch your baby to detect any signs of an allergy or intolerance.
* If your baby doesn’t seem to like the taste of cow’s milk at first, don’t give up. Some babies need a few sips to adjust to the flavor while others may need a couple experiences with a new food before they decide they like it. You will know if your little one just doesn’t like it at all if they make faces and refuse to drink more than one sip on multiple occasions.
* Encourage your baby to drink milk by allowing him to see you drink it as well. Pour yourself a glass while preparing your baby’s sippy cup, and then make it an experience that you share.
* Don’t start with chocolate, strawberry or other flavorings. If your baby has a negative reaction, you want to know that it’s the milk an ingredient in the added flavors. You also want your baby to adjust to the flavor of milk without the sweetness of a flavor.
* Make milk a treat rather than a requirement. You don’t want to give your baby a lot of milk each day, so they may start to look forward to their daily milk cup if you say no when they demand more. We’ll discuss how much milk babies need in the first few years of life below.
* If your baby just doesn’t like milk, consider giving him a bit of ice cream or mixing the milk with cereal if your baby is eating solid foods. There is no requirement that they consume milk in a glass.
Signs Your Baby Is Sensitive or Allergic to Milk
If you start to supplement with cow’s milk after your baby turns one and you notice any of the following, your baby may have a sensitivity or allergy to proteins or enzymes found in cow’s milk:
- Stomach pain
- Stomach cramping
- Intestinal bleeding (rare)
- Anemia (rare)
Soy is a possible supplement for cow’s milk if your baby experiences any of these symptoms after consuming milk, ice cream, cheese or other milk-based foods. There are also a variety of milks from other sources available widely in grocery stores today, including almond milk and coconut milk.
Make sure to discuss the options with your baby’s medical provider to ensure that your choice is healthy, safe and nourishing for your baby.
How Much Cow’s Milk Is Enough?
A cup or two of milk each day is enough for most babies under the age of three. Between three and eight years of age, your baby may consume up to three cups of milk per day healthfully. Three or more cups of milk daily isn’t recommended until your child is at least nine or 10 years old.
Your baby should also drink water after weaning from the breast. While whole cow’s milk is recommended during the second year of life, you may switch to skim or 2% milk after your baby turns two or three. That will help with weight control, and some babies prefer lower fat milks.