The most common allergy among infants is to cow’s milk, so it’s important to start introducing it to your baby slowly. It’s best to start introducing it early, from as early as 1-2 months. While starting to give your baby something that is such a common allergy can be stressful, it’s actually the best way to ensure they don’t develop the allergy.
The Benefits of Feeding Your Child Cow’s Milk
Practicality & Freedom
Cow’s milk has numerous nutritional benefits, which we’ll cover in a moment, but one of the best reasons to give your child cow’s milk is simply because cow’s milk is in so many products we consume daily. Vegan and dairy-free products are becoming much more prevalent on shelves, but by feeding cow’s milk little and often, you can drastically reduce the likelihood that your child will develop CMA (Cow’s Milk Allergy).
In fact, the SPADE study, which examined this specifically found that feeding a small amount (2 teaspoons a day) of cow’s milk from as young as 1-2 months can reduce the likelihood of developing CMA by 87.9%. Children that do not develop CMA have a huge amount of freedom in later life to eat as they choose.
Of course, besides the simple limitations that come with CMA, there are many benefits of feeding cow’s milk. Milk offers your baby:
- Calcium – essential for healthy bone growth, muscle development (including the heart), and blood clotting
- Vitamin D – essential for the absorption of calcium
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – keeps the immune system, eyes, and skin healthy. It also assists with energy release
- Protein – a cup of whole milk contains 8g of protein
- Vitamin B12 – assists the body in the creation of red blood cells
- Potassium – keeps nerves and muscles working properly
- Phosphorus – helps in the formation of bones, aids in the repair of tissues, and utilization of macronutrients
- Selenium – important for thyroid function, DNA production and helps protect against infection
Introducing Cow’s Milk FAQs
Can I serve my child yogurt or cheese instead?
Yes, any dairy product will work, but it’s recommended to try mixing milk into simple dishes first. If your child doesn’t like milk, try these other sources when they are old enough. Yogurt is a popular choice; just make sure it doesn’t have too many added sugars.
Can I use cow’s milk formula (CMF) for the same results?
Yes, CMF will offer the same benefits as real milk.
What signs of CMA should I be on the lookout for?
Allergic reactions to cow’s milk range from very mild to severe. It’s a good idea to be aware of the symptoms so you can recognize if your child is having an adverse reaction to cow’s milk.
CMA can appear as:
- Restless sleep
- Unexplained crying
- Unwilling to eat
- Wheezing and breathing issues
If your baby is having difficulty breathing, call 911 immediately.
How quickly do CMA symptoms develop?
CMA symptoms develop in two ways: immediately and delayed. Immediate symptoms will occur within just a few minutes of consuming cow’s milk. Delayed symptoms can take anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days.
How early can I introduce cow’s milk to my baby?
Most people will advise you to start around 4-6 months. While this age is beneficial, the SPADE study showed that introducing cow’s milk as early as 1-2 months will further reduce your baby’s chances of developing CMA.
My baby won’t drink cow’s milk, what should I do?
Don’t worry about it! Simply offer them foods with milk “hidden” in it, and they’ll receive the same nutritional benefits and will be much less likely to develop CMA. You can mix milk into:
- Mashed foods
- Creamy desserts
You can also try offering milk as a snack instead of as a drink with their meal. Warming up the milk a little can also help make it more appetizing, especially for breastfeeding children.
How to Introduce Your Baby to Cow’s Milk
Introducing cow’s milk to your baby doesn’t mean you have to give it to them in a bottle. In fact, serving your baby unpasteurized milk (or milk with added sugar) is not recommended. Serving cow’s milk as a small part of a meal is the best way to introduce them to the new texture and flavor.
Make sure you only introduce one allergen at a time. For example, if your baby has yet to come into contact with peanuts, to the best of your knowledge, don’t offer them a recipe that combines milk and peanut butter. Each allergen should be introduced knowingly and in small amounts, so you can watch for any negative reactions.
Here are 3 recipes you can use to introduce your baby to cow’s milk.
Healthy Fruit Smoothie
Recommended Age: Once eating mashed foods
Serving Size: 2
Total Time to Make: 5 minutes
- 1 cup milk (if your baby hasn’t had cow’s milk before, it’s best to use 1/8 cup milk and 7/8 their normal formula)
- 1 small banana
- 1/2 cup of fruit
- 1/2 cup veggies (such as a small handful of spinach)
Note: don’t add fruits and veggies your child has never had before in this recipe if it is their first time having cow’s milk. While allergies to fruits and vegetables aren’t as common, it’s best to introduce one new food at a time.
- Chop any large ingredients, and prepare your formula if necessary
- Add all ingredients to your blender
- Blend thoroughly
- Add water to dilute, as necessary
Recommended Age: Once eating mashed foods
Serving Size: 1 (feel free to make more for your own dinner!)
Total Time to Make: 35 minutes
Equipment: No special equipment needed, though a potato masher will make your life easier
- 1 potato for mashing (whichever you prefer, or use sweet potatoes)
- Pinch salt (optional)
- 1 tbsp milk
- Peel and cut the potato into quarters
- Add them to a saucepan and cover with cold water
- Add a pinch of salt
- Bring the water to a boil, and then cover and turn the heat down to simmer for 20 minutes
- When the potatoes are soft (a fork goes through easily), drain and add to a large bowl
- Mash and add the milk
- Stir until your child’s preferred consistency
- Serve when cool
Warm Sweet Oatmeal
Recommended Age: 6+ months, or once eating solids
Serving Size: 1
Total Time to Make: 25 minutes
- 1/4 cup raw oats
- 1/8 cup whole milk
- 1/8 cup water
- 1 tsp organic apple sauce
- For a lighter consistency, add more water
- Add milk and water to a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil
- While the liquid is heating up, blend the oats until powdery
- Add blended oats, stirring to combine
- If desired, add more water
- Add to bowl with apple sauce
- Allow to cool for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally
Key Takeaways for Parents
- Introduce Cow’s Milk Early – Don’t wait until your child is 12+ months to introduce cow’s milk for the first time. Cow’s milk need not replace another aspect of their diet, but simply ingesting some regularly will reduce the likelihood of developing CMA by 87.9%.
- Don’t Introduce More Than One Allergen at Once – A peanut butter smoothie may sound delicious, but CMA and peanuts are two key allergens. Introduce them separately and carefully.
- Add to Baby’s Favorite Foods – Babies often find the texture and taste of cow’s milk unappetizing compared to breastmilk or their normal formula, so add a small amount into other foods they like.
- Little and Often is Preferable – Studies show that consistent exposure to cow’s milk is the best way to ensure your baby does not develop CMA.
- If You See Minor Symptoms, Talk to Your Doctor Before Feeding Again – A rash that develops the day after your baby consumes cow’s milk may or may not be connected. If your baby shows minor symptoms, reach out to your doctor for an allergy test. Allergy tests will show you how allergic your baby is, and you can decide with your doctor if it’s worth continuing their exposure or if it is unsafe to do so.
You don’t need to be afraid of introducing cow’s milk to your baby, but you should do it wisely. Start early with just a little, and build-up, keeping an eye out for signs of a reaction. Simply introducing a small amount of cow’s milk to your baby’s diet on a weekly basis may mean they can eat anything they choose later in life.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.