When Should I Introduce Dairy to my Baby?

little child drinking milk

{Guest Expert Blog post at Love Child Organics} Many parents ask me about when they can introduce dairy to their baby. The recent recommendation from Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and the Breastfeeding Committee of Canada is*:

If parents and caregivers are introducing cow milk…delay until 9 – 12 months of age…limiting cow milk intake to no more than 750mL (3 cups) per day.”

A similar (but not exactly the same) statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics says **:

“Once your baby is past one year old, you may give him whole cow’s milk, provided he has a balanced diet of solid foods (cereals, vegetables, fruits, and meats). But limit his intake of milk to one quart (32 ounces or 946 ml) per day.”

These statements leave many parents asking me questions. Let me address the most common ones that I receive.

But first let me explain the reason behind the recommendations because I think that it will help you understand what to feed your baby. It’s not that there is something in dairy that’s unsafe for babies. The recommendation is related to iron. Iron is important for babies’ growth and in particular their brain development. There are 3 ways that dairy foods can be a concern with respect to iron:

  1. Dairy foods aren’t a source of iron.
  2. Many babies love drinking cow’s milk and eating other dairy foods. Thus, the dairy foods can crowd out iron-rich foods.
  3. Dairy foods can interfere with babies’ absorption of iron.

So the recommendation was created to provide advice on how to include cow’s milk in a way that doesn’t interfere with babies’ need for iron.

Here are my responses to the questions that I’m frequently asked:

Question: Does this mean that I need to wait until 9 – 12 months to give my baby cheese and yogurt? What about foods that contain cow’s milk?

Answer: No. Any time from about 6 months onwards, feel free to introduce small amounts of yogurt and (pasteurized) cheese amongst the wide variety of foods that you’re introducing to your baby.  Just don’t make yogurt or cheese a food that you’re giving large amounts of, day after day. Make them a ‘sometimes’ food, not a ‘frequent’ food. The same goes for other foods that use cow’s milk as an ingredient, such as sauces and dips.

Q: 9 – 12 months is a big age range, should I wait until 9 months or 12 months?

A: The reason behind the age range is that you want your baby to be regularly eating a good amount of solid foods multiple times a day before you introduce cows’ milk. Like learning any new skill, some babies master eating solids quicker and some take longer to actually get any significant amount of food in them (as opposed to on their face and clothes, in their hair, and on the floor). If your baby is eating lots of solid foods (particularly iron-rich foods), feel free to start introducing small amounts of cows’ milk after 9 months. If your baby is slower to get the hang of eating solids (particularly iron-rich foods), wait until 12 months.

Q: Why do the statements give a limit per day?

A: It’s above 3-4 cups per day that we start to see the negative effects of cows’ milk on eating iron-rich foods and iron’s absorption. This can result in iron deficiency.

Check back to this blog next month when I’ll cover when to introduce cow’s milk alternatives such as soymilk, almond milk, etc.


** http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Why-Formula-Instead-of-Cows-Milk.aspx