When Can Babies Have Dairy Products And How Much To Give Them

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Deciding when can babies have dairy products can be quite a tricky conundrum for most parents. Many people out here have lactose intolerance, and you would want to know if your baby is one of them. If you are weaning your baby from breastmilk, you may be concerned about how much dairy is okay for your baby to consume or what kinds of dairy products would be suitable for your little one.

It is normal to have these concerns, and you may want to find out all the answers before you decide to introduce your little one to dairy products. Keep reading to understand if dairy products are okay to introduce to your baby and in which quantities.

When Can You Start Giving Dairy Products To Your Baby?

1. Whole/ cow milk:

Introduce whole cow milk after the baby is one year old

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Cow’s milk is not recommended for babies under 12 months as it could lead to iron deficiency, dehydration, and allergy (1).

You may begin giving whole milk after the baby completes one year. The high-fat content in whole milk helps in the baby’s brain development. Once the baby completes two years, you can give him low-fat milk (2).

Cow’s milk contains calcium and is one of the very few sources of vitamin D, both of which are required for healthy bones and teeth.

2. Yogurt:

You can begin giving yogurt to your baby as early as eight months (3), provided there is no familial history of allergies. Yogurt provides all the nutrients (protein, fat, calcium, potassium, etc.,) for your baby, and is easy on the tummy.

The active cultures in the yogurt break down the lactose and protein, making them easy to digest. It also has vitamin D.

Go for whole milk yogurt instead of a low-fat one, so that your baby gets the required amount of fat.

Offer plain yogurt that is naturally sweetened with fruit pulp or juice instead of artificial sweetners.

If your baby is lactose intolerant or has a milk allergy, eczema, or asthma, then you need to -r check with a pediatrician.

Once you confirm that your baby is not allergic to yogurt, you may try these combinations to make it interesting for your baby:

  • Yogurt with fruits or veggies
  • Yogurt with bananas
  • Yogurt with applesauce
  • Sweet potato mixed with yogurt
  • Boiled and mashed carrots topped with yogurt
  • Yogurt-based smoothies

3. Cheese:

If your baby has been feeding on breastmilk or formula and does not have a milk allergy, then you can introduce cheese after eight months of age (4).

Shred or melt the cheese and spread it on bread, veggies, or meat. You can also give sweet potato and cheese mash.

For starters, you may use the lighter cheese variants such as Colby, Jack, and American. Choose the ones which have low salt content.

A baby’s diet should include dairy to help them meet their calorie needs but you can’t give them in excess quantities.

How Much Dairy Can You Give To Your Baby?

Try yogurt for babies who cannot digest milk well

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Introduce the foods in small quantities, and gradually increase the portions.

Dairy productRecommended quantityTips
Whole milkNot more than 24oz (5)Give them whole milk for the first two years
Yogurt8oz (2)Your child may take time to develop a liking for a new food but don’t discontinue feeding just because he is not eating
CheeseHalf ounceMonitor your baby while eating to avoid choking

The US Department of Agriculture recommends 480 milliliters (16oz) of dairy products a day for infants of two to three years. Feeding dairy products beyond the recommended limits might decrease the baby’s appetite for other foods.

If your child has difficulty having whole milk, then you can feed him yogurt and cheese. But you should not replace breastmilk or formula with cow milk.

Why Should You Not Substitute Breastmilk/formula With Cow’s Milk?

Cow milk may trigger milk allergy in your child

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You shouldn’t substitute breast milk/formula with cow’s milk or introduce cow milk to babies in the first 12 months for the following reasons:

  • Cow’s milk lacks essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamin E that the breastmilk/ formula contains.
  • The lack of iron in cow’s milk causes iron-deficiency anemia, especially if fed between four to six months of age.
  • The high levels of nutrients such as protein and casein lead to higher urine concentration, resulting in dehydration.
  • Your baby is prone to milk allergy in the first year.

However, you can mix cereal with cow’s milk and also use it in cooked recipes. When you cook any food along with milk, the proteins are broken down and hence it is safe for babies older than eight months.

Once your baby turns one year old, you can give him cow’s milk along with complementary solids (such as veggies, fruits, and finger food).

What If Your Baby Has Dairy Allergies?

Vomiting may be a sign of dairy allergy

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If there is a familial history of milk or dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, then you should not introduce dairy in any form until your baby turns one year. There is a reduced risk of developing allergies after one year.

If there is no history of milk allergies, you could try the regular method of waiting for three days after introducing a dairy food and not giving any other new food in those three days. This way, you will be able to know if your baby is allergic to dairy.

Some common symptoms of allergy are:

  • Red itchy patches
  • Swelling of lips or eyes
  • Vomiting within two hours of eating the new food

If you see any of the above symptoms in your baby, stop giving him the new food and check with your doctor immediately.

Things To Remember

Introduce one new food at a time to babies to rule out allergies

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Here are some handy tips you need to know before introducing dairy food to your baby:

  • Consult your doctor before introducing dairy products.
  • Babies who are allergic to dairy products are prone to be allergic to foods like soy.
  • Introduce one new food at a time, so that you can identify the allergy-causing food.
  • Lactose intolerance is rare in babies. But, even if your child is lactose intolerant, it may be fine for him to have yogurt because the active cultures present in it break down the lactose, making it digestible.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why can babies have cheese but not milk?

While babies can eat specific cheese, they are not allowed to drink cow’s milk until 12 months. This is because cheese is fermented, so the milk’s harder-to-digest protein (lactose) becomes partially broken down into lactic acid (6), allowing it to be easily digestible for babies. However, babies cannot digest milk properly.

2. Why can’t babies have anything other than breast milk?

The WHO and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding your baby until six months and not giving any solid feeds or water. Breast milk contains all the essential nutrients required for a baby’s growth and development before six months. It helps prevent infections, such as diarrhea, which can develop in babies from introducing foods or fluids (7).

While you plan to wean your baby off breast milk or formula, you must be thinking, when can babies have dairy? Most parents introduce dairy products such as cow milk, yogurt, cheese, etc., to their babies after they reach 12 months. However, you may include plain yogurt and light cheese in your baby’s diet after 8 months and take your doctor’s consent, but it is best to initiate cow’s milk only after one year. Nevertheless, if you have a family history of dairy allergies, you must avoid dairy until one year or try feeding in smaller amounts initially to check for any adverse reactions in your baby.

References:

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Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different...
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Jyoti Benjamin

(MS, RD, CSO, FAND, CD)
Jyoti Benjamin has 25 years of experience as a clinical dietitian and currently works in Seattle. She focuses on teaching people the value of good nutrition and helping them lead healthy lives by natural means. Benjamin has a masters in Foods and Nutrition, and has been a longtime member and Fellow of AND (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) and the...
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