The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be nourished with breast milk or iron-fortified formula during their first year of life. The organization also believes that breast milk or iron-fortified formula, along with age-appropriate solid foods and juices, provides balanced nutrition during the latter part of the first year. So many moms and caregivers wonder when it’s safe to give cow’s milk to a baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages cow’s milk for babies less than 1 year old. If a baby is fed whole cow’s milk the baby will not get enough vitamin E, iron, or essential fatty acids. The baby may also get too much protein, sodium, chloride, and potassium which can negatively affect its kidneys. Whole cow’s milk protein and fat are difficult for babies to digest.
Dr. William Sears is specific when asked his opinion about giving a baby cow’s milk. He advises no cow’s milk before age one, then whole milk between age one and two, and low fat or non-fat milk after that. He cites allergies and iron-deficiency anemia as reasons to postpone cow’s milk until after the first year. Cow’s milk does not have sufficient amounts of iron or zinc for a baby. Both are necessary for growth and development during the first year of life.
Milk induced iron-deficiency anemia has greater consequences in infants than iron-deficiency anemia in adults. Most adults can treat an iron deficiency with supplements. In contrast, insufficient amounts of iron during infancy can permanently affect a child’s ability to learn. It can also cause problems with an infant’s growth.
Cow’s milk is a good source of nutrition for most children when introduced at the appropriate age. Once a child is old enough for cow’s milk, it may be necessary to mix it with breast milk or formula at first to acquaint the child with the taste of the milk. One part cow’s milk to three parts breast milk (or formula) may be the best way to start out. Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin A. Most cow’s milk is also fortified with vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium.