Cow's Milk for Babies - Benefits, Side Effects & More

Giving Cow’s Milk to Babies

Medically Reviewed By
Archana Shah (Diabetologist/Nutritionist/Dietitian)
View more Diabetologist/Nutritionist/Dietitian Our Panel of Experts

Many of us have fond memories of being fed cow’s milk by our mothers when we were young. This delicious and nutritious drink is often offered by itself, with cornflakes and oats or in milkshakes, etc., to kids. However, since a baby’s digestive system isn’t as developed as a ten-year-olds, one wonders if it is the ideal drink for an infant. Here, we discuss if cow’s milk is suitable for babies and, if not, when it can be introduced to them. We will also discuss how you can give it to your baby, its health benefits, and more. Let’s read.

Can We Give Cow’s Milk to a Newborn Baby?

Cow’s milk isn’t recommended to newborn babies for a variety of reasons.

  • Firstly, a baby’s digestive system isn’t developed enough to handle the large quantity of proteins (such as casein and whey) in cow’s milk.
  • Secondly, the early introduction of cow’s milk to your infant can make his system intolerant to it.
  • Lastly, cow’s milk can make your newborn iron deficient, as it interferes with iron absorption in the body.

While feeding milk is not advised, milk-based products such as yoghurt and cheese are still considered acceptable for babies below one year of age. However, we should refrain from offering them cow’s milk independently. This is because the amount of sodium in cow’s milk is much higher than what a baby’s kidneys can handle.

When to Introduce Cow’s Milk to Babies?

Most parents who feed formula milk to their babies are keen to transition to cow’s milk. This is mainly because formula milk is expensive and exclusively for the baby’s consumption. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is purchased for the whole family anyway, making it a cheap alternative. If the baby doesn’t have a family history of lactose intolerance or dairy allergy, he can be introduced to cow’s milk after 1 year of age.

Remember that if your baby is breastfed until the first birthday, they are getting the best nutrition milk can offer! Not only is breast milk ideal for human babies, but it also has the right mix of nutrients that your child needs for growth and development. Breast milk also has a higher fat content, which is vital for the growth of your baby (Yes! Higher than cow’s milk too). Cow’s milk (which is also species-specific composition) just happens to be the most convenient source of calcium, protein, fats and Vitamin D. While it provides no competition to breast milk, it does offer a viable alternative to mothers who plan to wean their child from breastfeeding, when he turns one year old.

How to Introduce Cow’s Milk to a Baby?

Cow’s milk can be introduced to babies after their first birthday, but in small quantities. To start off, it can be mixed with breast milk, formula milk, or boiled and cooled water to allow the baby to have a smooth transition. You can consider sneaking it in other foods of your baby’s choice, initially, to check if he is able to digest it without any issues.

You can mix cow’s milk with breast milk in the ratio of 1:3. This means that the mixed milk will be one-part cow’s milk and three parts breast milk. You can gradually start increasing the ratio of cow’s milk, while simultaneously reducing the ratio of breast milk. Eventually, the toddler can be offered cow’s milk alone. Ideally, it should be offered at least an hour before feeding time. This helps kids get the right nutrition from milk without compromising their appetite for other foods.

Nutritional Value of Whole Cow Milk (Per 100g)

Let’s take a look at the nutritional value of whole cow milk below:

Nutrients Quantity
Saturated fat 4.6 g
Protein  7.7 g
Carbohydrates  11.7 g
Calcium  276 mg
Iron  0.07 mg
Vitamin D  128 IU
Fat  7.9 g

Health Benefits of Cow’s Milk

Cow milk is good for babies as it has a good amount of calcium, which is vital for developing strong bones, teeth and muscle growth. It contains Vitamin D which helps in the absorption of calcium in the body.

Milk also carries a high amount of protein, which helps your baby grow. It also contains carbohydrates, which give your child the energy required throughout the day. A child with abundant levels of calcium will have stronger bones, healthy blood pressure, and a healthy heart.

How Much Milk Does Your Toddler Need?

A one-year-old can be offered about 8 to 12 ounces of milk, daily, after a gradual introduction. You may also offer a dairy equivalent of this in the form of yoghurt or cheese. Some children may take a liking to this taste and prefer this over regular meals as well. However, you should restrict the intake, as it might limit their appetite for other solids. This could be counterproductive, as your child will not have a balanced diet.

You may also consider offering milk as a beverage in between meals and not as a substitute for the meal itself. It is important to remember that your toddler may not chug down the glass of milk as he did during bottle feeds. This is perfectly fine. Intake of cow’s milk is a nutritional supplement and an optional beverage. The same nutrients can also be received from a variety of other foods.

Side Effects of Cow’s Milk

As always, the introduction of any food to your baby must follow the three-day rule. Monitor your child closely after you start them off on any new food. The same applies to cow’s milk as well.
Some babies may be sensitive to the dairy intake of their mother as well. Close monitoring of symptoms such as overall restless behaviour, diarrhoea, vomiting, relentless crying, flatulence or noisy bowels could indicate this.

You might wonder, ‘Why is cow milk bad for babies?’ Cow’s milk has a higher concentration of proteins, sodium, calcium, and Vitamin D, and sometimes strains the digestive systems of babies. You must watch out for the following symptoms to ensure your baby is able to digest cow’s milk well.

1. Allergies

Rashes, breathing issues and wheezing can all be a result of cow’s milk allergy in babies. Symptoms can be more extreme, such as constipation, hives or a stuffy/ itchy nose as well.

2. Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance can show up as vomiting, gastrointestinal, stomach upset, and even diarrhoea in babies on the introduction of cow’s milk.

In case your baby does seem to have an allergy to cow’s milk, you should consult your doctor for alternatives to cow’s milk, such as soy milk.

What to Do If Your Baby Refuses to Drink Cow Milk?

There are a few tips that may help your child accept cow’s milk more willingly.

  1. Try to warm the milk before offering it. Most of the time, toddlers refuse the milk, as cold milk is unusual for them. A slight temperature variation can do the trick.
  2. If the child doesn’t seem to like the taste, you can consider giving it as a milkshake or mixed with other food such as cereal, porridge etc. It also helps make the milk look interesting by adding natural colours to it.
  3. Make milk-drinking fun for your child! Create positive associations with verbal or other rewards for drinking milk each day.
  4. Offer it in a colourful sippy cup or with a straw. You can even consider buying a new cup just for this purpose and declare it to be a special cup so that the child looks forward to drinking anything out of it.
  5. As a last resort, you can sweeten the milk. It is best to stay away from this practice as it gets the child habituated to the taste. You can try natural sweetening by adding fruits or dry fruits to the milk.

Which Type of Cow’s Milk to Choose for Babies: Whole Milk vs. Low Fat Milk

Until two years of age, children need to receive whole milk. This is because the fat in it is essential for their growth. After that, the transition to low-fat or regular milk can be made. Depending on the weight range of the child, a smart choice can be made. Babies who are overweight or on the heavier side can be given low-fat milk from the start.

Though milk is a popular drink around the world, it may seem surprising that it isn’t recommended for infants from the go. However, once the one-year age barrier is crossed, one can transition towards milk and milk-based products.

Alternatives to Cow’s Milk

If your child is allergic to cow’s milk or lactose intolerant, here are some alternatives that you could try giving him instead.

1. Soy Milk

A popular alternative to cow’s milk, soy milk is widely available and affordable throughout the country. This also has a similar nutritional value as that of cow’s milk. However, soy milk is an acquired taste that your child must get used to.

2. Coconut Milk

Rich in Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, coconut milk is healthy and readily available as well. It is also creamy and tastes great. One con to this alternative is that coconut milk has a lower proportion of proteins and calcium to cow’s milk, so you may need to make up for the deficiency with other foods

3. Almond Milk

Almond milk has a neutral taste and creamy texture and is available in different flavours. This is also highly nutritional and low in calories. However, the price of this alternative is much higher.

4. Goat Milk

Goat’s milk has more calcium, B6, vitamin A and potassium than cow’s milk but lacks folate and Vitamin B12. But make sure to always use pasteurised goat milk for your baby.


1. Is It Safe to Give Ultra Pasteurised Cow’s Milk to Toddlers?

Yes, you can give your toddler ultra-pasteurised cow milk, as it has the same nutrients and health benefits as regular whole cow milk.

2. Does Milk Cause Choking Hazard in Babies?

Babies can choke while having milk if they consume it too quickly.

3. Is It Safe to Continue Breastfeeding While Also Giving Cow’s Milk to a Baby?

Breastfed babies over the age of one may continue to nurse if desired, but you also can start offering your baby whole milk.

4. Is It Okay to Give Organic Cow Milk to Babies?

Yes, you can give organic cow milk to your baby, but only if it is pasteurised or sterilised.

5. Can Cow’s Milk Increase Baby Weight?

Studies state that babies who consume cow’s milk as the primary source of nutrition have an increased weight than those who consume formula or breastmilk.

6. Can Cow’s Milk Lead to Autism in Baby?

No, there is no such evidence that directly suggests that cow milk consumption causes autism or autism symptoms in a baby. But if your baby already has autism and milk allergy/lactose intolerance, then consuming cow milk can make the baby more irritable.

7. Is It Necessary to Boil Cow Milk Before Giving It to the Baby?

Yes, you must boil the cow milk before giving it to your baby if it has not been sterilised.

Cow’s milk can provide a baby with essential nutrients, once he turns one-year-old. It is neutral tasting and can be easily flavoured. However, make sure to follow precautions when introducing cow’s milk to your baby’s diet to ensure he is not allergic to it.


1. Cow’s Milk and Milk Alternatives;;

2. Cow’s Milk Alternatives: Parent FAQs;;

3. Milk, whole;;

4. A comparison between human milk and cow’s milk;;

5. Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D;;

Also Read:

Goat Milk for Babies
Dairy Products for Infants
Should You Give Packaged or Toned Milk to Babies?

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