Cow’s milk is completely unsuitable for infants under 9 months old.
Cow’s milk should never be given to a baby under 9 months old because it contains too much protein and too many minerals for baby’s kidneys to handle. Cow’s milk does not provide enough lactose or linoleic acid, a fatty acid required for the development of your baby’s nervous system and brain. In addition, it does not contain enough vitamin A, B1, B6, C, D, and E, copper, manganese, or iron. It deprives your baby of important protein building blocks like taurine, cysteine, and alpha-lactalbumin, and it doesn’t provide the immune protection of mother’s milk.
Before 9 months – Cow’s milk often causes anemia because it contains very little iron, reduces intake of other foods, and can cause bleeding in the intestine. This light bleeding is often invisible to the naked eye.
If you are thinking of giving cow’s milk to your baby before age 9 months of age because commercial infant formula is too expensive, contact your CLSC for information about financial assistance you can apply for.
After 9 months – You can start giving your baby cow’s milk, but not more than 750 ml (25 oz) a day. Buy pasteurized whole milk (3.25% milk fat).
Introducing cow’s milk
Your child can start drinking cow’s milk at 9 months, providing she eats a varied diet. Every day she should eat:
- Iron-rich foods (e.g., meat, meat alternatives, iron-enriched baby cereals)
- Vegetables and fruit
Otherwise, wait till your baby is 12 months old before introducing cow’s milk.
If you give cow’s milk to your child, choose whole milk (3.25% milk fat):
- Ordinary homogenized milk, enriched with vitamin D or
- Unsweetened evaporated milk, enriched with vitamins C and D, diluted in an equal quantity of water.
Cow’s milk can be introduced gradually. You can begin by replacing some of the breast milk or commercial infant formula with cow’s milk. Then you can gradually increase the proportion of cow’s milk at each feeding.
Do not serve 2% or skimmed milk
Young children need fat for growth and brain development. It’s better to avoid giving them 2% milk before age 2. Do not serve them 1% or skimmed milk.
You can continue serving whole milk (3.25% milk fat) to your child throughout early childhood, up to school age. Never serve sweetened concentrated milk.
Pasteurized goat’s milk
For infants, goat’s milk has the same disadvantages as cow’s milk. It is also low in folic acid and vitamin D, although goat’s milk enriched with folic acid and vitamin D is available at grocery stores. Like cow’s milk, you can start serving goat’s milk to your child between the ages of 9 and 12 months. Choose pasteurized whole goat’s milk (3.25% milk fat).
Some people recommend goat’s milk for preventing or treating allergies to the proteins in cow’s milk. Unfortunately, goat’s milk often causes the same reactions. Many children who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to goat’s milk.
Enriched soy drinkss
Enriched soy drinks are not suitable for infants. They are incomplete and much less nutritious than breast milk or even commercial infant formulas. Since babies grow very rapidly, they need a complete, balanced diet. These drinks can hinder your baby’s growth.
Soy drinks contain fewer calories and less fat than whole cow’s milk (3.25% milk fat). This is why it is recommended that you wait till your child has reached 2 years of age before serving her soy drinks.
Some parents want to serve soy drinks to younger children. You can give your child soy drinks after 1 year of age, as long as she eats a varied diet and is growing normally. Make sure that the soy drink you choose for your 1 to 2 year old has the following terms listed on the label:
- “Enriched,” because drinks that are not enriched do not provide enough nutrients to meet the needs of a young child
- “Plain” or “Original,” because “light” or flavoured drinks are not suitable
Why serve pasteurized milk
Do not give raw (unpasteurized) milk to your child, even if the milk comes from a perfectly healthy herd.
It is essential to pasteurize animal milk. In fact, the sale of unpasteurized milk is illegal in Canada. Many diseases can be transmitted through raw or unpasteurized milk, including poliomyelitis, typhoid, encephalitis, tuberculosis, diarrhea, salmonella and brucellosis. The pasteurized milk sold in food stores is just as nutritious as raw milk and poses no risks to your child’s health.
Industrial pasteurization consists of heating the milk very rapidly to very high temperatures, and then cooling it equally rapidly. The process only takes a few seconds. Dangerous microorganisms are destroyed and the nutritional value of the milk remains unchanged.
It is recommended that you not try to pasteurize milk at home. It is too slow, less effective, and causes significant loss of milk’s natural nutrients: vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, D, and folic acid.