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Dairy for babies and children: yes or no?

Whether or not babies can have dairy is a question a lot of parents don't always know the answer to. And that's completely understandable, given the mixed messages out there. We're here to clear this up!

Can babies drink milk

Let's start with the most important thing to note: the main source of hydration - and of nutrition actually - during the first year of a person's life is breastmilk or formula. Both breastmilk and formula contain less protein and fat than cow's milk and are perfectly adjusted to your baby's needs. Making sure your baby drinks enough of that milk, is very important. But does this mean your baby can't have any cow's milk? And if so, when can they?

Mother breastfeeding baby

When can babies drink cow's milk?

Before your baby is 1 year old, you shouldn't give milk as a drink. Because milk is very high in protein, serving milk on top of their baby milk (breast milk or formula) might cause the baby's protein levels to be too high and iron too low. Before the first birthday the only drink should be breast milk or formula, and on occasion also water. However, you can use a bit of milk in your cooking. Milk is a good source of calcium and B vitamins, especially B12, which makes milk an important food if you raise your child vegetarian. It contains plenty of other vitamins and minerals and if for that reason a healthy food to give to your child. Cow's milk is a common allergen. If you're unsure about whether your child is allergic or not, start with a small serving and work your way up.

You can also use milk in baked goods or warm dishes. You can also, on occasion, make porridge with cow's milk, but make sure to not serve this too frequently, especially before the first birthday.

Can my baby eat yoghurt?

Yoghurt is a source of protein, calcium and several B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which is important for the function and development of brain and nerve cells. It also helps keep the gut healthy by increasing the microbiota, so it's definitely part of a healthy, varied diet for your child. However, yoghurt contains a lot of protein. If your baby is less than 1 year old, really only give small portions and not too frequently, so your baby doesn't get too much protein. You can start by adding a spoon of yoghurt to your baby's fruit puree. Don't give too much at once, see how your baby likes it and digests it. Always choose the full-fat, not flavoured or sweetened kind. Yoghurt is of course made from milk, which is a common allergen. If you're unsure about whether your child is allergic or not, start with a small portion and work your way up.

What about cheese?

It is safe to serve small amounts of cheese to your baby from the age of 6 months. However, you should try to go for cheeses that are low in sodium, such as ricotta, mozzarella, cream cheese, cottage cheese or swiss cheese. Cheeses that are high in sodium are halloumi, feta, parmesan and cheddar. You can serve these to your baby but in very small quantities. This means the occasional sprinkle of parmesan on top of your pasta is totally fine. But remember that moderation is the keyword with cheese since they do contain quite some fat and sodium. It's also very important to always go for cheeses that have been pasteurised at high temperatures. The same remark here again about the allergies since cheese is usually made from cow's milk.

What about dairy from other animals, such as goats?

You can start serving goat's cheese from 6 months old, and it actually contains a lot of the nutrients your baby needs at this time of fast growing. The most important being healthy fats and protein. Goat's cheese also offers vitamins (mostly A and B2) and minerals such as calcium and copper. To add to that, goat's cheese contains probiotics that will help with your baby's digestion. Always choose a full-fat cheese that's pasteurised and low in sodium (feta, for example, is high in sodium and should be served only after the first birthday).

So dairy for babies, yes or no?

Yes, but in small portions and not too frequently. You will not harm your child if you add a splash of milk or a spoonful of grated cheese to your cooking. Just make sure to not serve big portions of milk, cheese or yoghurt before the age of one (and even te next year) to avoid the protein overload. Remember, your baby is already drinking a considerable amount of milk that is perfectly adjusted to their body's need.