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Babies and Cow’s Milk: When is Best?

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As a new parent, you might be wondering when you can introduce cow’s milk into your child’s diet, and what type of milk to offer. Here are some answers to your questions based on the recommendations of the Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, Breastfeeding Committee for Canada and Health Canada.

When can you introduce cow’s milk into your child’s diet?

You can introduce pasteurized, whole (3.25% M.F.) cow’s milk when your baby is between 9 and 12 months of age, when he or she is already consuming a variety of foods, including an adequate source of iron and vitamin C.

Ideas for action...

  1. During the first six months, exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby. After six months, it is recommended to gradually introduce solid foods. Breastfeeding can continue up to the age of two or even longer.
  2. If you are not breastfeeding, use an iron-fortified, cow’s milk- based infant formula until 9-12 months of age.
  3. Before the age of two, offer pasteurized whole (3.25% M.F.) milk, and after the age of two, choose whole or 2% fat milk, which will help satisfy the high energy needs of young children. The fat contained in milk is important for the development of the brain and for growth.

Did you know?

  • Breast milk provides all of the nourishment a healthy infant needs for the first six months with the exception of vitamin D. Exclusively or partially breastfed infants need a daily vitamin D supplement for as long as they are breastfed. Once breastfeeding is stopped and that whole (3.25% M.F.) cow’s milk is introduced at around 9 to 12 months, vitamin D supplementation can be re-evaluated.
  • Commercial iron-fortified infant formulas (cow’s milk or soy based) are the only appropriate alternatives to breast milk. Soy-based formulas should only be used for infants who cannot take dairy-based products for health, cultural or religious reasons. Infant formulas are already fortified with vitamin D so infants who are fed formula do not need a vitamin D supplement.
  • Cow’s milk is not recommended before 9 to 12 months due to the possible risk of iron deficiency anemia. Whole (3.25% M.F.) milk can be introduced between 9 and 12 months of age, when your baby is consuming a variety of foods including vegetables, fruits, meat, iron-fortified cereals and legumes.

Sources

  1. Health Canada. 2014. Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months. www.hc-sc.gc.ca. Accessed July 7, 2015.
  2. Health Canada. 2014. Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Six to 24 Months. www.hc-sc.gc.ca. Accessed July 7, 2015.
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