It is a common question of new moms: Why can I give my 6-9 month old baby cheese, yogurt, and some other milk products, but cow’s milk is forbidden for the first year? I will attempt to break down answers to the following questions.
- Why is (drinking) milk taboo for baby’s first year?
- Why are other dairy products OK for my baby to eat?
- How do I determine if my baby has a milk allergy, sensitivity or intolerance?
Why is (drinking) milk taboo for baby’s first year?
Let’s tackle the obvious. Cow’s milk is the perfect food for baby cows, not baby humans. It lacks many of the essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antibodies found in breast milk. Commercially prepared formula is nutritionally a good substitute for breast milk, though it lacks many of essential omega 3s, immune-booting white blood cells, immunoglobulins, healthy enzymes, and hormones that simply cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.
Cow’s milk, as a substitute for breast milk or formula, can cause anemia (an iron deficiency) in babies under 12 months of age. The sugars (lactose) and proteins (casein) in cow’s milk are difficult to digest and interfere with iron absorption. Most babies are born with an iron storage that lasts for approximately six to nine months. Once that storage is depleted, it must be replenished. That’s why many baby cereals and formulas are fortified with iron. If you decide to exclusively breastfeed and wait to introduce solids until after 6-7 months, talk to your pediatrician about adding vitamin supplements, such as Enfamil’s Poly-Vi-Sol(R) with Iron.
Most formulas have a cow’s milk base, though the sugars and proteins are broken down to a digestible form so it won’t interfere with iron absorption. If you suspect your baby has allergies or sensitivities to cow’s-milk formula, try switching to a soy-based or protein hydrolysate formula.
Why are other dairy products OK for my baby to eat?
Other dairy products such as cheese, whole-milk yogurt, and foods that have cooked milk in them (such as SuperMac & Cheese and Berry Smooth) are allowed and recommended for your baby under 12 months. Why? First of all, these foods do not serve as the main source of nutrition. Breast milk or formula should remain the nutritional mainstay for the first 12 months.
Second, the difficult-to-digest-sugars found in cow’s milk (lactose) are limited and in some cases completely removed by the culturing process. Similarly, when milk is cooked as an ingredient in other foods, the lactose is broken down or removed entirely.
When introducing yogurt to your little one, start with a plain whole milk organic yogurt with no added sugars. We recommend Stonyfield’s YoBaby mixed with a fruit puree, such as Pears Perfect or an Apple A Day.
Whole milk dairy products in moderation are very good for your baby because they are high in fat and are a great source for calcium and Vitamin D.
How do I determine if my baby has a milk allergy, sensitivity or intolerance?
There is a difference between food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances. We’ll discuss each category and how to spot the differences so you can tailor foods to suit your child’s individual needs.
Most people freely interchange the word “allergy” when referring to an intolerance or sensitivity. However, allergies to milk and dairy products are actually quite rare. When people have a true allergy to milk, the body produces antibodies that release histamines resulting in a quick and often severe reaction, such as wheezing or hives. It’s easy to detect a milk allergy because the body’s reaction to the food is immediate.
Sensitivities to milk are harder to determine because the reaction times are slower – symptoms often showing up two to three days later. However, it is much more common and less severe than food allergies and intolerances. A milk sensitivity can trigger symptoms such as a chronic a runny nose, congestion, diarrhea, constipation and colic. If your baby is consuming a formula derived from cow’s milk and you notice these symptoms, first try switching to a soy-based formula. However, the protein in milk is similar to that of soy - so often times, babies who are sensitive to cow’s milk will have a similar reaction to soy. If that is the case, you must switch to a protein hydrolysate formula. The good news is, many babies will eventually outgrow their sensitivity to soy, milk or other dairy related products.
Intolerances can be difficult to diagnose though reactions can be quite severe. A person has a milk intolerance when he/she lacks the specific enzymes to digest lactose (milk sugar) and/or casein (milk protein). Intolerances can lead to reactions within a few hours, such as diarrhea or cramps, and in rare cases can also lead to more severe long-term problems such as decreased attention span, hyperactivity, and even social withdrawal – among other neurological reactions.
Scientists have discovered a link between autism and ADHD and casein intolerance. Many children with autism/ADHD do not have enough digestive enzymes to break down the protein and/or have problems with their intestinal lining. Because the proteins are insufficiently broken down, these complex protein chains negatively react with the brain, causing a wide array of neurological problems. In fact, removal of casein (and other proteins such as gluten and soy) from affected child’s diet can dramatically improve symptoms of autism and/or ADHD.