Giving Cow’s Milk to Babies

Many of us have fond memories of being offered cow’s milk by our mothers when we were young. This delicious and nutritious drink is often offered to kids by itself, with cornflakes, with oats, as milkshakes and much more. However, since a baby’s digestive system isn’t as developed as ten-year old’s, one wonders if it is the ideal drink for an infant. Here we discuss if cow’s milk is good for babies and if not, then when it can be introduced to them.

Can We Give Cow Milk to a Newborn Baby?

Cow’s milk isn’t recommended to be given 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, early introduction of cow’s milk to your infant can make their system intolerant towards it.
  • Lastly, cow’s milk can make your newborn iron deficient as it interferes with iron absorption in their body.

While feeding milk is not advised, milk-based products such as yoghurt and cheese are still considered acceptable for babies younger than 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?

Most parents who feed formula milk to their babies are keen to transition to cow’s milk. This is mainly because milk formula 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, she can be introduced to cow’s milk after six months. However, it should only be a part of the cooked solids diet. You would still need to wait until about a year to offer them milk independently.

Remember that if your baby is breastfed until the first birthday, they are getting the best nutrition milk can offer! Not only is breastmilk ideal for human babies it also has the right mix of nutrients that your child needs for growth and development. Breastmilk also has higher fat content that 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 breastmilk, it does offer a viable alternative to mothers who plan to wean their child from breastfeeding after one year of age.

How to Introduce Cow Milk to Baby?

Cow’s milk can be introduced to babies after their first birthday in small quantities. To start off, it can be mixed with breast or formula milk to allow the baby to have a smooth transition. You can consider sneaking it in other foods of their choice initially to check if they are 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 breastmilk. You can gradually start increasing the ratio of cow’s milk while simultaneously reducing the ratio of breastmilk. Eventually, the toddler can be offered cow’s milk alone. Ideally, it should be offered at least an hour before feeding time. This helps them get right nutrition from the milk while not compromising their appetite for other foods.

Health Benefits

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

Milk also carries high amount of protein which helps your baby grow. It also contains carbohydrates which give your child the energy that they need throughout the day. A child with abundant levels of calcium will have stronger bones, a 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 eventually 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 like she did for the 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 to 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 or 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. Most of the time toddlers refuse the milk as cold milk is something that 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 milkshakes or mixed with other food such as cereal, porridge etc. It may also help to make the milk interesting by adding natural colours to it.

3. Make milk drinking fun for your child! Create positive associations with verbal or other rewards for milk drinking.

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 may try to 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 Milk to Choose for Babies: Whole Milk or Low Fat Milk

Up to 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 done. Depending on the weight range of the child, a smart choice can be made. In case the baby is overweight or on the heavier side, they 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 on the onset. However, once the one-year age barrier is crossed, one can transition towards milk and milk based products.

Also Read: Goat Milk for Babies