Advice on when why and how to introduce cow's milk into your baby's diet.
The vast majority of experts now agree that you should wait until your baby is at least a year old before introducing cow's milk into their diet as a replacement for breast or formula. It is however OK to introduce dairy products such as yogurt and cheese and small amounts of cow's milk in custards or sauces from about 7 or 8 months unless your child has a particular sensitivity to these products.
Although it can be tempting to give your baby cow''s milk before they reach one year of age, it is advisable to heed expert advice as it isn't just a ploy by formula milk providers to get you buying their products for longer, there is actually a proper scientific reason why you should wait.
Firstly, cows milk is not as nutrient rich as formula or breast milk so by switching to cow's milk early your baby could be missing out on vital nutrients that are needed by the body for health development such as iron. Secondly, until children have reached around 12 months of age their digestive tracts are not sufficiently developed to cope with the complex proteins present in cows milk and as such they are not only likely to suffer from upset tummy's but research has shown that there is also an increased risk of developing diabetes (especially if there is a family history of the condition) and allergic conditions such as eczema and asthma.
When your baby reaches 7 - 8 months of age you can begin to introduce cheese, yogurt and milk-based sauces into your baby's diet to provide them with much needed calcium. However, just as when you introduce any new food you should limit it to one new food at a time just to check that your baby doesn't have a sensitivity.
When you come to introducing cow's milk into your baby's diet you may find that your baby is willing to switch from breast or formula straight away. However, many parents find it easiest to introduce cow's milk gradually. You could try giving your baby a cup of milk after dinner and still continue with bottled formula or breast milk, gradually reducing the number of bottle feeds and increasing the number of cow's milk feeds until you have switched over completely - many people find the transition to cow's milk a good time to wean baby off of bottle and onto lidded beakers or cups instead.
To ease your baby onto cow's milk surreptitiously you could try mixing it with their regular milk in varying amounts to get them used to the taste. Start with mostly breast or formula milk in the feed and add a tiny bit of cow's milk, then gradually increase the proportion of the cow's milk with each feed until you have completely switched over. If your baby really isn't keen on cow's milk you could try introducing it on their cereal or in smoothies first.
Once you have made the transition you should aim to give your baby at least 2/3 pint (350ml) of cow's milk each day. However, you can supplement this with other calcium rich foods such as cheese and yogurt as dairy products are also an essential source of other essential nutrients such as vitamins A and D and several important B vitamins. If your baby won't drink milk you should make sure they get at least two portions of calcium rich foods a day as part of a balanced diet.
It is important that you only give your baby full fat milk rather than semi or skimmed milk until they are at least 2 years of age as they not only need the fat and energy provided by whole milk to facilitate the healthy development of the nervous system but also need the extra nutrients it contains. After the age of 2 you can give your baby semi skimmed milk although it is preferable to continue with full fat milk until they are at least five years of age.
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