Cow Milk For Babies: When And How To Introduce It To Them

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Cow milk makes a great addition to a growing baby’s diet. While some parents use milk as an ingredient for preparing food for the infant, others especially consider it for nutrition. But is cow milk safe for infants and toddlers? If yes, when and how much can you give to avoid any adverse effects?

Keep reading this MomJunction article for detailed information about cow milk for babies.

When Can Babies Have Cow Milk?

Babies can have cow milk only after they are one year or 12 months old, when their body can comfortably process different types of foods (1).

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Why Can’t Babies Have Cow Milk Before The Age Of 12 Months?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies below the age of 12 months cannot digest cow milk as they can breast milk and formula (2). Cow milk also has a high concentration of protein and minerals that can strain an infant’s kidneys. The baby’s stomach and kidneys become stronger after the age of 12 months, which makes it an ideal time to introduce cow’s milk.

But why should you give cow milk to a baby anyway?

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[ Read: Goat Milk Benefits For Babies ]

What Are The Advantages Of Giving Cow Milk To A Baby?

Cow milk is rich in nutrients and provides the following benefits to the baby (3):

  1. Benefits muscle growth: Cow milk is high in protein, which babies need in abundance for healthy muscle synthesis and development.
  1. Good for the circulatory system: Regular consumption of milk is good for maintaining blood pressure, which in turn can benefit the overall circulatory system.
  1. Helps neurodevelopment: Cow milk contains lipids called phospholipids and glycosphingolipids that play a vital role in the growth of the nerve cells. Experts state that these lipids can be helpful for healthy neonatal brain development.
  1. Keeps bones healthy: Regular consumption of cow milk helps the baby reach their recommended daily allowance of calcium.
  1. Several micronutrients help baby’s general health: Milk contains a small quantity of almost all essential micronutrients and vitamins, which makes it a complete food for babies.

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Nutritional Value Per 100g Of Whole Cow Milk

NutrientUnit value per 100 gm
Natural sugars5.05g
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)0.046mg
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)0.169mg
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)0.089mg
Vitamin B60.036mg
Vitamin B9 (Folate)5µg
Vitamin A46µg
Vitamin D1.3µg
Vitamin E0.07mg
Vitamin K0.3µg

Source: United States Department of Agriculture (4)

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[ Read: When Can A Baby Drink Soy Milk ]

How To Choose The Right Variation Of Cow Milk For Babies?

The cow milk you give to your baby should be:

  • Pasteurized and sterilized: Pasteurisation is when the milk is heated at a high temperature for some time, and then rapidly cooled to limit the bacteria and other microorganisms in the milk (5). Sterilization is a process that kills all the microorganisms in the milk, which makes sterilized milk the safest option for babies. You can consider pasteurized milk when sterilized milk is not available.
  • Fortified: Milk in itself contains a lot of nutrients, but added nutrients can enhance its nutritional values. Such a process is called fortification. Choose cow milk fortified with vitamins, especially vitamin D. Fortification makes it easier for a baby to attain their recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of essential nutrients.

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Can You Give Skimmed Or Low Fat Cow Milk To My Baby?

No. You must always choose whole cow milk for your baby. Babies need fat at their age and skimmed (fat-free) and low fat (1-2% fat) milk contains very little fat to meet baby’s nutritional requirement. Moreover, skimmed and low-fat versions of cow milk contain a high concentration of protein, potassium, sodium, and chloride, which can overload a baby’s kidneys (2) (6).

The concentration of vitamins and minerals is also less in low-fat and fat-free cow milk, which makes whole milk a better option for babies.

Your baby can have low-fat varieties of cow milk after the age of two years. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that if a baby is overweight, has high blood pressure, or heart disease, low-fat cow milk can be given after consulting the pediatrician.

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[ Read: Is Formula Milk Good For Baby? ]

How To Introduce Cow Milk To Babies?

Cow milk is hard to digest and should be introduced slowly, starting with small quantities in the beginning. Here is how you introduce cow milk to a baby:

  • Start with small sips every day: Your baby may not develop a liking to cow milk right away. Therefore, start with spoonfuls or small sips through a sippy or open cup. It lets the baby get used to the taste of cow milk and become familiar with it.
  • Give cow milk in a separate cup: Do not mix any other food item with cow milk the first time you give it to the baby. Pour some cow milk in a separate glass and offer it to the child: this allows the baby to know the taste of milk and lets you understand how the baby’s body reacts to it.
  • Increase quantity slowly: If you have given the first cup of milk to the baby today, wait for a day or two before offering more. As you would with other foods, introduce cow milk in small quantities and gradually increase the quantity and the frequency.
  • Make it part of a meal or a beverage: Serve milk as an accompaniment to breakfast or evening meal. Cow milk can be a part of the baby’s daily meal plan to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of nutrients it has.

Cow milk could become an integral part of the baby’s diet, but there is a limit to how much the baby can have.

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How Much Cow Milk Can A Baby Have?

Pediatric experts recommend no more than 32oz (946ml) of cow’s milk per day for babies. Excess milk consumption can increase the baby’s calorie intake and leave little room for other solid foods that the baby needs. If your baby demands more than the ideal quantity, you can give them alternatives such as breast milk or formula.

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Can There Be Any Disadvantages Of Giving Cow Milk To Babies?

Cow milk can be disadvantageous to babies below the age of 12 months. It can irritate the inner lining of their stomach and intestine, causing bloody stools. Intense bleeding can cause the onset of iron-deficiency anemia, which in turn can cause several health problems (6). To avoid that, it is best to wait until the baby is 12 months old before introducing cow milk.

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Can A Baby Be Allergic To Cow Milk?

Yes. Cow milk allergy is the most common allergy among toddlers and young children (7). The symptoms of cow milk allergy include skin hives, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. The baby’s face could be swollen, and the demeanor could be lethargic. Severe allergic reactions can cause anaphylaxis, a condition with serious symptoms.

To avoid triggering an allergic reaction, introduce cow milk in small sips, and then gradually increase the quantity. If you suspect the baby is allergic, then stop giving milk entirely. Otherwise, slowly increase the portion of milk served.

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Can A Baby Have Cow Milk Yogurt And Cheese?

Yes. Your baby can have yogurt and cheese made from cow milk after the age of 12 months. Ensure that the cheese or yogurt you buy is without added flavoring, sugar, and color.

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[ Read: Symptoms Of Milk Allergy In Babies ]

Can You Continue Breastfeeding When The Baby Starts Having Cow Milk?

Yes. Medical experts recommend that you continue breastfeeding beyond the age of one year or even two years when the baby has solids foods (8). Hence, there is no need to pause or stop breastfeeding when the baby starts having cow milk.

Next, we answer a few commonly asked questions about cow milk for babies.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should I boil cow milk before giving it to the baby?

Yes, especially if the milk is not sterilized. If you have purchased packaged cow milk that has been “sterilized” or has a “no boiling required” label on it, then the milk needs no boiling. Pasteurized milk is also reasonably safe to consume since it has a significantly lesser bacteria when compared to raw milk.

In any case, boil the milk if you can, before giving it to the baby, to be on the safer side.

Also, never give raw cow milk to an infant, as it can contain a host of pathogens including viruses that can adversely affect the baby’s health.

2. Can I buy organic cow milk for my baby?

Yes. You can choose organic cow milk for your baby if you have a choice, but only if it is pasteurized or sterilized.

3. Can I give cow milk formula to the baby?

Yes. Infant formula is usually made from cow milk. But if your baby has a milk allergy, then they cannot have cow milk formula either. You have to choose alternatives such as a soybean-based formula in such a case (9).

4. Cow milk vs. almond milk vs. soy milk – which is better?

Almond and soy milk are ideal alternatives for babies with milk allergy or lactose intolerance. Each variety of milk can be fortified with vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. Cow milk naturally contains several vitamins and minerals that almond and soy milk may contain after fortification.

In any case, consult your pediatrician before choosing the best alternatives to cow milk for the baby.

5. Cow milk vs. buffalo milk – which is better for babies?

Studies have found similarities between cow milk proteins and buffalo milk proteins (10). However, they may differ in their mineral and vitamin content. Buffalo milk has more magnesium and calcium when compared to cow milk, but it also has more fat (11). The low fat content of cow milk helps control the calorie intake of the baby while buffalo milk does not. Eventually, it comes down to your preference and local availability.

6. Can cow milk cause autism in babies?

No. No evidence directly suggests that cow milk consumption causes autism or a reason for the worsening of autism symptoms (12). If your baby has autism and milk allergy/lactose intolerance, then consuming milk can make the baby more irritable, thus exacerbating autism symptoms. Therefore, it is the allergy to cow milk rather than the milk itself that can aggravate the symptoms of autism.

7. Can cow milk cause constipation in babies?

Yes, but not always. Cow’s milk has been linked to constipation, but not that frequently. Some studies have found that chronic constipation due to regular cow milk consumption can be an indicator of a mild milk allergy (13). If the baby always develops constipation after consuming cow milk, then take them to the doctor.

[ Read: Signs Of Formula Milk Allergy In Babies ]

Cow milk makes excellent food for babies transitioning to toddlerhood. It is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals that allow the baby to reach the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of nutrients easily. Starting with small quantities and being watchful for allergies is all you need to safely make cow milk a part of the baby’s diet.

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How did you introduce cow’s milk to your child? Share your insights with our other moms in the comments section.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Infant Feeding Guide;University of Rochester Medical Center
2. Why Formula Instead of Cow’s Milk?; American Academy of Pediatrics(2018)
3. A Haug, A T Hostmark, O M Harstad; Bovine milk in human nutrition – a review;Lipids Health Dis.(2007)
4. Basic Report: 01077, Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D;National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference(2018)
5. K Peck; What is pasteurization and how does it work?;UNC Biology Pen Pal Program(2013)
6. INFANT FORMULA FEEDING; U.S Department Of Agriculture;
7. Milk Allergy in Infants;Rady Children’s Specialists of San Diego
8. Breastfeeding; World Health Organization
9. J Bhatia, F Greer; Use of Soy Protein-Based Formulas in Infant Feeding;American Academy of Pediatrics(2008)
10. W J Sheehan, W Phipatanakul; Tolerance to Water Buffalo Milk in a Child with Cow Milk Allergy ;Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol(2009)
11. D B Kapadia, D B Prajapati,; Comparison of Surti goat milk with cow and buffalo milk for gross composition, nitrogen distribution, and selected minerals content;Vet World(2016)
12. S M Bauset,I Zazpe,; Evidence of the gluten free and casein free diet in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs): a systematic review
13. S M Dehghani, B Ahmadpour,; The Role of Cow’s Milk Allergy in Pediatric Chronic Constipation: A Randomized Clinical Trial;Iran J Pediatr.(2012)

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