Cow’s milk is the single most complete food on Earth — no other food has as many nutrients. So, it is understandable if a mother might be eager to start her baby on cow’s milk as soon as possible.
However, doctors advise against giving cow’s milk to an infant before he or she has turned one year of age. There are several reasons for this.
It is cow’s milk’s very nutritiousness — the sugars, fats, proteins and minerals in it (calcium, phosphorus and potassium, to name the three most prominent) — that make it difficult for young babies to digest, since their digestive systems are still maturing.
Cow’s milk has lactose, a carbohydrate (or sugar) that can pose digestive problems for some adults, as well as for some infants. If a baby’s system has trouble digesting lactose, the baby can get stomach ache, gas or diarrhea.
Cow’s milk also has proteins that some people, including some babies, are allergic to. In the case of protein allergies, the baby’s intestinal lining could become irritated, and the milk proteins can get into the infant’s bloodstream, from where they can cause respiratory problems such as wheezing and a runny nose, rashes on baby’s cheeks or, in rare occasions, life-threatening breathing difficulties.
Another potential problem with giving cow’s milk to an infant is that if the milk’s proteins irritate the baby’s intestines, the intestines will lose a little blood in the stools regularly. This can lead to a more serious condition called iron-deficiency anemia, which must be treated before it escalates.
The best thing to give to your infant throughout his or her first year of life, then, is your breast milk. Most babies will simply nurse longer (or more frequently) to meet their increasing dietary needs. Doctors advise that moms find ways to simply give the baby more breast milk during that first year. Try nursing at specific times during the day, in a dark and quiet environment where your baby won’t be distracted.
Also, check that your nursing technique is good from the start; the milk should flow freely out of the breast when the baby’s mouth forms a seal around or on the areola. Be sure that you drink lots of water to help you produce more milk. Eat dairy products and drink plenty of cow’s milk, as this will be an indirect way to pass on the nutrients in cow’s milk to your infant, but in a way that his or her gut can handle.
If a mom opts to supplement her breast milk after the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding, she should give her baby an iron-fortified formula recommended by her pediatrician, as it will be easier for the baby to digest than cow’s milk (though neither formula nor cow’s milk is as beneficial for an infant as mom’s breast milk).
Once your baby is a year old, experts say to give your infant no more than about 20 oz of cow’s milk a day, which should be broken up into 4 servings; smaller servings make it easier for the baby’s gut to get used to the new sugars and proteins. Organic milk is always better than regular milk, as it is free from growth hormones and pesticides used in the production of non-organic milk. Many adults and children with milk sensitivities also find that they do better with organic milk.
Also, feel free to give your 1-year-old yogurt, as it is easier to digest than milk, since the fermentation process has broken down the lactose and proteins somewhat.
Should a 1-Year-Old Drink Low-Fat or Nonfat Milk?
Pediatricians advise against it, since a 1-year-old needs the high fat content in whole cow’s milk to gain appropriate weight. Unless your baby is overweight or at risk for obesity, he or she should not switch to reduced-fat cow’s milk until age 2.
What if Your 1-Year-Old Doesn’t Want Cow’s Milk?
Because cow’s milk tastes different and has a different texture from breast milk, you may find that your toddler wants nothing to do with it. In that case, try mixing your breast milk with the cow’s milk, and gradually decreasing the breast milk amount you put in the cow’s milk.
If your baby is at least one year old, you can also add a little bit of cocoa powder (about a quarter teaspoon per 5 oz of cow’s milk, since it’s very strong) to the cow’s milk. This is preferable to giving your child store-bought chocolate milk, as chocolate milk is likely to have non-nutritious thickening agents, as well as a lot of added sugar. Syrups are equally bad; in addition to the added sugar, most brands contain many artificial chemicals.
By Jamell Andrews