Cow’s milk and dairy products are a great source of vitamins and micronutrients, but parents are often confused by recommendations not to give dairy to a child under the age of 12 months. What do the recommendations really say and what is a good way to introduce dairy to your little one?
Why is dairy good for your baby?
Dairy products are a great source of calcium, which babies need for the development of their bones and teeth. They also contain Vitamin A, which is much needed for our immune system and keeps our skin and eyes strong and healthy. Dairy products also provide iodine and Vitamin B12 for your little one, which support your baby in their development.
When and how should you introduce dairy?
You can introduce dairy products, such as cheese or yogurt, from 6 months of age. Make sure you use whole-fat products, as your little one needs the fat for their growth and development. Yogurts should not contain added sugar. A small cup of plain Greek yogurt with some berries can be a delicious breakfast. Cottage cheese with cucumber is a very nice lunch. When choosing cheese, make sure it is a variety, which is pasteurised and contains little salt, for example a mild cheddar or mozzarella. A cheese stick can be a great finger food on the go.
You should not substitute a breast or formula feed with a cow’s milk feed (this is where the confusion about the recommendations comes from). Cow’s milk has a different composition of protein and carbohydrates and the iron in it is much more difficult for little ones to absorb.
Once your little one is 12 months old, you should offer 2 servings per day made from milk, such as cheese, yogurt or fromage frais. One portion of cheese is about 20g (one slice), one portion of yogurt would be a small pot (125ml).
Are there alternatives to dairy products?
You can offer calcium-fortified plant-based milk products, such as almond or soy milk. Children under the age of 5 years should not drink rice milk, as there are concerns around contamination with arsenic.