For a baby's first year, breast milk or commercially prepared baby formula that is used in bottle feeding is the primary source of nutrition. Most babies begin Eating Solid Food at about 6 months and by their first birthday, they are ready to substitute whole fat cow's milk for the breast milk or formula. Although individual paediatrician recommendations vary from 9-12 months, most agree that it is healthiest to postpone cow's milk until about a baby is about12 months old.
Take Your Time
Some parents are anxious to wean their babies to cow's milk, especially those who have been feeding their babies formula, as it can be a bit costly. But there are several good reasons to wait until the baby is 12 months old. Cow's milk isn't as rich in several nutrients, especially iron, as breast milk or formula, which is important for healthy first year development. Until the baby is eating a variety of iron-rich foods, feeding breast milk or commercially prepared formula ensures that they will get a sufficient amount of iron.
Additionally, there is evidence suggesting that the early introduction of cow's milk increases the chances of a child developing diabetes later in life. This is especially important in families with a history of the disease. Finally, children who switch to cow's milk before their first birthday have higher incidences of Allergies and eczema than those who wait.
Making the Switch
While some babies take readily to the taste of cow's milk, others require a little convincing. One of the easiest ways to transition a resistant baby is to mix cow's milk with the beverage that the baby is already comfortable with, increasing the proportions of the cow's milk a little at a time. This gradual method makes it easier for the baby to get familiar with the new taste. This can take up to a few weeks, so be patient.
While older children and adults do best on reduced fat or fat free milk, babies require the additional fat from whole fat milk for proper brain, eye, and nervous system development. Whole milk should be continued until about the second birthday, but check with your child's paediatrician since several factors may be considered before switching to a lower fat milk.
Dairy Based Foods
In addition to whole fat cow's milk, there are a few other sources of foods rich in vitamin D and calcium. Many paediatricians recommend the addition of custard, cheese, and yoghurt as early as 7-8 months. Most babies tolerate these foods well, but as with all new foods, be alert for signs of gastrointestinal distress.
While the standard of advice for switching to whole fat cow's milk is one year, it is always a good idea to ask your child's paediatrician for weaning advice based on your baby's size, development, and individual health status. You and your child's doctor are in the best position to decide what is best for your baby.