When is cow's milk safe for baby?
Experts recommend that babies only be given cow’s milk after the age of 12 months. Here's why.
Ever wondered why babies can't actually drink cow's milk just as soon as they're born? It's high in protein and before 1 years old, their little bodies just can't handle it. (iStock)

One of the common questions around baby food we receive is whether a baby may be given cow's milk.

Why can't very young babies drink cow's milk?

1. It's too high in protein and salt

The reason is that cow’s milk is too high in protein and salt to be used without modification in an infant under 1 years old. Because babies’ digestive systems are still immature, animal milk proteins are not as easily digestible as breastmilk or formula.

2. It might cause a milk allergy

There is also some evidence that introducing cow’s milk too early could increase your baby’s risk for milk allergy, with symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating, gas and irritability.

What is an allergy?

Any food allergy occurs when your immune system tries to protect you against something you have eaten. The body goes into overdrive, resulting in the symptoms mentioned. An allergy is partly genetically determined. In the case of babies, if a food item is introduced before the baby has a complete set of digestive enzymes required to digest all the proteins, carbohydrates and fats in these foods, there is a chance of some damage to the digestive system.

When can a baby start drinking cow's milk?

Gradually change to cow’s milk after a year, but until then mix your baby’s breakfast cereal with expressed breastmilk or formula. Once you do introduce full-cream cow’s milk it will replace formula or breastmilk feeds.

Your baby will need a minimum of 350ml of cow’s milk each day. She will probably have about 2 milk feeds per day (morning and evening) after the age of 1.

How did you introduce your baby to cow's milk? How did they respond when you took them off formula and breastmilk? Tell us by commenting below or emailing chatback@parent24.com and we may publish your comments.

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