Optimal nutrition of the infant involves selecting the appropriate milk source and eventually introducing infant solid foods. To achieve this goal, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be fed breast milk for the first 6 to 12 months. The only acceptable alternative to breast milk is iron-fortified infant formula — and not cow’s milk.
Cow’s milk given to a baby who is 7-12 months old is not advisable as it does not contain equivalent amounts of iron to formula. If you have to use cow’s milk to feed your infant, ideally do so for as short a time as possible and for less than a week.
Why do babies need formula rather than cow’s milk?
- All baby formulas have added vitamins, minerals, and fats that babies need, which they can’t get from normal cow’s milk.
- Babies can’t digest and absorb cow’s milk as completely or easily as breastmilk or formula. That’s because the protein level in cow’s milk is too high for babies. A high concentration of the protein and minerals found in cow’s milk can stress a newborn’s immature kidneys and cause severe illness at times of heat stress, fever, or diarrhea. The allergic response on the other hand can lead to inflammation in a baby’s gut or microscopic bleeding in their intestinal lining.
- The lack of iron in cow’s milk can lead to anemia. Overall, it can result in babies being unwell or not thriving.
For these reasons, you shouldn’t give cow’s milk to your baby as their main milk drink until your baby is over 12 months old.
Babies under 12 months of age should not have:
- Normal cow’s milk as a main drink
- Skim, evaporated, powdered, or sweetened condensed milk
- Dairy alternatives like soy, rice, almond, or coconut milk, unless a health professional recommends them.
Consumption of breast milk or iron-fortified formula, along with age-appropriate solid foods and juices, during the first 12 months of life allows for more balanced nutrition.
Homemade formulas are not recommended. Although the homemade formula was used in the past, it also was associated with many risks to infants. Online recipes have significant safety concerns regarding contamination and nutrient concentration. Using homemade formula could harm your infant.
Special Baby Formulas
For babies under 12 months of age, cow’s milk-based baby formula is recommended over formulas made from soybeans or goat’s milk, or low-lactose or lactose-free formula.
But babies who can’t have cow’s milk-based formula might need special formula. You should use special baby formulas only under medical supervision.
Changing Baby Formula
Once you’ve settled on a baby formula for your baby, it’s better not to change the formula too often. The taste will vary slightly, and it might upset your baby’s feeding routine.