Is your baby ready for cow’s milk?
Although the question of when to begin introducing a baby to cow’s milk seems black and white, it really is not that clear. In some cultures the recommendation is around 9 months, others around a year, and some cultures it’s not the norm to give an infant cow’s milk at all. In the United States, the general recommendation is to transition an infant from formula to cow’s milk around one year of age. It is suggested to transition from infant formula to cow’s milk after a year, although, if breastfeeding, it is still encouraged until about two years of age. Cow’s milk is not nutritionally comparable to formula or breast milk, so it is critical not to replace an infant’s need of breast milk or formula with cow’s milk until the year mark.
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Before we tackle strategies, let’s establish this: every infant is different, so be patient and avoid comparing what your best friend’s baby did to transition. A lot of factors can play a role in the transition. Let’s take a look at some common scenarios:
- Work is calling and they are ready for you to come back
- As much as you have enjoyed breastfeeding, you’re ready for the transition
- As much as your baby has loved breastfeeding or formula, they are ready for the transition
Whatever your reason, it’s OK to introduce cow’s milk when you and your baby are ready—and that decision is up to you! Some infants can transition in two weeks and others may take longer than two months. Use your intuition on approaching this transition. If you are ready, here are some strategies to help:
If you are breastfeeding: Begin pumping and serving 1-ounce of whole milk in a bottle full of breast milk once a day beginning around 10 months (or about 2 months from when you wish to transition). Increase 1-ounce of whole cow’s milk each week for only one bottle (again, this is not replacing all bottles, just one bottle a day).
If you are formula feeding: Beginning around 10-months introduce 1-ounce of whole cow’s milk in one bottle per day. Increase each week 1-ounce of whole cow’s milk for only one bottle (again, this is not replacing all bottles, just one bottle a day).
Best time of the day
This may vary for each infant. If your infant is turned off by the introduction of cow’s milk initially don’t lose hope. Try cuddling him or her while your little one drinks from the bottle. Consider starting with one bottle without cow’s milk and switching mid-way to a bottle with 1-ounce of cow’s milk to see if baby notices. Perhaps when baby is sleepy he or she won’t notice the shift, so try in the early morning or as little one is getting ready for bed. There is no right or wrong time, it’s best to pick up your baby’s cues and keep trying.
Read more: Is baby ready for solids?
Type of cow’s milk
While whole milk is a given due to baby’s need for fat and calories, you don’t have to provide only plain cow’s milk. Have you heard of kefir or fermented milk? Probiotics (healthy gut bacteria) are important for all humans, including infants. If your baby enjoys yogurt he or she may enjoy kefir or fermented milk. Be sure to start with plain, whole-fat kefir or yogurts before adding in flavor.
If you’re struggling for time and really want to help encourage your infant to take to whole milk or fermented milk, consider blending in whole fruit—not fruit juice—into the milk. Berries, like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries also provide a healthy dose of fiber and make for a delicious milk blend.
For an infant who is used to a warm bottle, he or she may prefer a warm glass of milk. Other infants may enjoy a blended smoothie using frozen fruit. Either is OK to try! If you do heat the milk it’s best to test the temperature before serving and discard the milk after an hour.
Don’t lose hope if these strategies aren’t working, and your baby just isn’t enjoying the transition from formula or breast milk to cow’s milk. If, by the one-year mark, your baby is getting in dairy from other sources such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and cheese, it’s OK if he or she prefers to drink water. The best advice is to stay calm, trust your intuition, and let your baby lead the way. If you find yourself stressing about this transition be sure to speak with your pediatrician and possibly request to see a pediatric dietitian to help you navigate the transition.
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