“Cow’s milk is for calf and not for babies below one year” – You could see these lines engraved in many Pediatrician’s office. But, the same doctors recommend curd/yogurt for babies just after completing 6 months. When curd is obtained from cow’s milk, how can the former one be good and the latter one be harmful ? I asked the same questions to my pediatricians and got sensible answers.
To be simple, the milk proteins present in cow’s milk are hard to digest by the immature digestive system and the tiny lil kidneys of babies below 1 year. The concentrated protein in cow’s milk can irritate the intestinal linings which could cause baby’s guts to bleed internally, resulting in iron deficiency/anemia. If the irritation is more, it could be seen via blood in the stools. But, mild bleedings might not catch the sight of you, still causing anemia in the baby. The stress imposed by milk proteins might cause fever, stomach ache and/or diarrhea in some babies.
Also, baby’s iron requirement before first birthday are mainly taken care by breastmilk/formula. They also supply the essential vitamin C for better iron absorptions. Cow’s milk cannot provide both iron & vitamin C. In addition, cow’s milk can only result in loss of iron due to internal bleeding as mentioned earlier. Do not underestimate anemia in babies. Though they might be initially asymptomatic(no symptoms), anemia could affect the physical(development delays) & mental(behavioral problems) growth of babies. Iron helps to make Red Blood Cells(RBC) in the body. RBC carry oxygen throughout the body. When a baby has Anemia(low iron level), the baby doesn’t get enough oxygen. Oxygen is the main fuel for both physical & mental growth of babies.
But still, many parents tend to give cow’s milk to babies below 1 year and just say that their baby loves to drink it and as far there are no issues with the baby. When we could only see about external symptoms, pediatricians are deeply educated to see what might happen inside the tiny human ? So, pls have faith in the pediatricians and strictly do not give cow’s milk to babies below one year.
Moms who cannot breastfeed upto 1 year, tend to give cow’s milk in place of formula, as they presume that formula is full of chemicals & so opt for natural cow’s milk. But the irony is that natural cow’s milk is so harmful to babies(below 1 year) while the chemical formula would supply Iron, Vitamin C & other essential nutrients required for the growing baby, which is otherwise provided by breastmilk. So pls don’t hesitate to give formula milk to babies(below one year) when u can’t breastfeed..
While cow’s milk is hard to digest, curd is fermented & this process of fermentation breaks down the complex milk proteins to easily digestible ones. Curd also develop more good bacteria/probiotics during fermentation. Probiotics aid in baby’s digestion and also curd supplies the essential calcium to babies. Though calcium is required for the growing bones and teeth, calcium might hinder iron absorption. So, avoid giving curd with iron-rich foods. For the same reason, do not feed curd daily. But, do include curd at least twice in a week for babies above 6 months.
Cow’s milk can be given to babies after their first birthday. After 1 year of age, first start including cow’s milk while preparing food like Oats porridge(link), Multigrains porridge(link), Pongal(add half water & half milk). If you are breastfeeding, you shall start cow’s milk as a direct drink when baby is nearing 2 years. Else, there is no necessary to give cow’s milk(as a drink) before that. The call is yours ! I have started mixing cow’s milk in her porridges and sometimes with rice or with idly. I don’t give cow’s milk as direct drink(except few days when I feel she had very less dinner or very early dinner) till 2 years or till when I plan to wean off breastmilk. Animal milk is not required as long as baby is breastfed. You shall discuss about it with your Pediatrician..
When the baby is 2 or 3 months shy of 2 years, you shall start cow’s milk as a direct drink in the evening. Please don’t introduce bottles/sippers as they are old enough(after their 1st birthday) to drink from a tumbler. Initially, pour small quantity(one sip at a time) in a small tumbler and then pour again once they are done with that. Gradually, they will learn to drink from a fully loaded tumbler. I just gave a total of 300ml a day(150 ml – twice in a day), when I weaned off breastmilk for my elder one. Do not give more cow’s milk as that will inhibit the consumption of other nutritious food, that is required for the growing babies.
The next question is what should I add in cow’s milk? The answer is “Nothing”. Yes, you read it right. It’s nothing ! No sweetener or enhancers are required to make babies drink milk. Believe me, my 8 year old is still drinking plain milk without any additives. It is a very good practice to avoid sweeteners in our daily drink. I too drink my milk plain without any sweeteners or additives. This all comes by practice. For the first 3 years, do not add any sweetener or enhancers to baby’s cow’s milk. Just give a warm glass of milk & no baby will demand for sweeteners or additives until you introduce it. After 3 years, you can give some occasional treats(twice in a week) with healthy additives like badam drink(link). But still, continue with plain milk for the rest of the days. Kheers/Payasams can be sweetened as they are occasional desserts. But daily drinks like milk/porridges need not be sweetened.
After one year, usually whole milk is recommended for babies as their growing body need more fat. But, pediatricians might recommend reduced-fat(2 percent) milk for obese(over-weighed) babies. Never ever opt for skimmed milk/no-fat milk or low-fat(1 percent) milk for babies as they have higher concentrations of proteins and minerals and so should not be given to babies below 2 years. Full fat milk or low fat milk might be dependent on your baby’s weight graph & so pls speak with your pediatrician about it. Giving unpasteurized but well-boiled & filtered cow’s milk for babies(after 1 year) is so common among people in countryside, but medical community always poses a risk hazard on the possible presence of harmful bacteria & germs in unpasteurized milk, which is said to cause serious illness in young babies. So, I don’t want to get deep into this topic and leaving it to you to research or seek your pediatrician’s advise on this.
Even some breastfeeding moms tend to give cow’s milk to babies below 1 year just bcoz they wanted their babies to practice drinking cow’s milk, so that it would be easy for them to wean off breastmilk. Come on, there are so much time left out to wean off breastmilk. Also, breastmilk need not be substituted just with cow’s milk for the weaning process. There are so many tips & techniques for a smooth weaning process and we will discuss in detail about “weaning off breastfeeding” in my next post.. Stay connected..