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When is it recommended to introduce cow’s milk in the baby’s diet?

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By : Nurturing Life's Nutrition Team | Montreal Diet Dispensary
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For healthy infants, whole cow’s milk (3.25% fat) can be integrated to a mixed diet at 9 to 12 months of age.

From birth to 12 months, the base of the diet should be breastmilk. According to Health Canada, for babies who are not breastfed or only partially breastfed, cow’s milk based iron-fortified infant formulas are the best substitutes for that period.

It is recommended to wait until the baby reaches the age of one year before offering cow’s milk in order to avoid causing nutritional deficiencies, kidney overload or intestinal damage. Indeed, the amount of protein in cow’s milk is not adapted to the needs of the babies, in addition to containing too much minerals for their kidneys and an insufficient amount of iron. Furthermore, due to its low iron content, but also because it can cause bleeding in the baby’s gut, cow’s milk can cause anemia. Finally, it does not contribute to the protection of the immune system as does human milk.

In some cases, cow’s milk may be introduced in a child’s diet at nine months provided that the diet is varied (including vegetables, fruits, meat and fortified cereals every day), and has been already for some weeks.

HOW TO INTRODUCE IT?

In order to facilitate the introduction of cow’s milk, it may be helpful to slowly increase doses over two weeks, replacing a small amount of breast milk or commercial preparation by cow’s milk. As for breastfeeding, the breastfeeding session is often simply shorter. The gradual introduction of cow’s milk allows the baby and lactating mom to get used to the change. Once introduced, the minimum amount of cow’s milk to be consumed is 500 ml per day and the maximum amount is 750 ml per day. If the child drinks too much milk, his appetite could be affected.

WHAT TYPE OF MILK TO INTRODUCE?

Pasteurized cow’s milk with 3.25% fat must be offered, and this, at least until the age of 2 years. Partially or completely skimmed cow’s milk is not recommended before this age because it does not meet the needs of infants for energy and essential fats. Fortified plant beverages are not recommended either since they do not provide enough energy and fat to the infant.

From the age of 2, 2% milk can be given to the child, but 3.25% cow’s milk can also be offered until the age of 5 years.

Cow’s milk is not recommended in cases of intolerance or allergy.

It may be necessary to continue or begin supplementation with vitamin D, even if the baby reaches the age of 12 months and consumes cow’s milk. For more information, see the following article.

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The Public Health Agency of Canada has contributed financially to the production of Nurturing Life.

The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official views of the Public Health Agency of Canada.