Here in the States, it is generally assumed that at one year old babies will transition to cow’s milk. Many parents, whether it be for allergies, constipation, or just personal concern, wonder if that is strictly necessary. So today we’re going to talk about what the best milk for babies after 1 is!
Nutrients of Concern
When we’re talking about milks, the nutrients that we are most concerned with are protein, fat, and vitamins and minerals. Of these vitamins and minerals, we’re especially concerned with calcium. Before one, all nutrition recommendations are essentially based off of what we know about breastmilk. After one, the requirements are a little less cut and dry.
Types of Milk
Let’s start with breastmilk. If you are still breastfeeding, and don’t plan to wean in the near future, then there is no need to introduce cow’s milk to your baby’s diet. Your milk will be totally sufficient as long as you are providing your baby with an adequate and varied diet of solid foods. While we might be concerned with calcium for babies, breast milk has calcium that is much more bioavailable than that in cow’s milk. This means that your baby needs less calcium from breast milk than they would from cow’s milk to meet their needs. While there is no need to introduce cow’s milk, after one there is nothing to say you shouldn’t introduce it, either, if that is something you would like to do.
If your baby is on formula prior to one, or you are planning to stop breastfeeding, then you should introduce cow’s milk to your baby’s diet. (Check out this post for amount recommendations.) After one, there’s really no need to stay with a toddler formula or any other specially formulated drink. Our general nutrition recommendations are built around cow’s milk, and are there to help you plan a diet that is adequate for your baby. Most toddler formulas have sweeteners and other unnecessary ingredients. They also tend to be more expensive than just plain cow’s milk! So after one, there’s no need to buy anything but regular cow’s milk.
Plant Based Milk
If for whatever reason your baby can’t have, or you don’t want them to have, cow’s milk, then there are some other options. The trick here is that, like I said above, our general nutrition recommendations are made around a diet that consists of cow’s milk. That means that using a plant based milk will provide different nutrients. You will need to be very intentional about your baby’s diet. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it! Just that you should be working one-on-one with a nutrition professional to help ensure that your baby is getting all the nutrients (meaning fat, protein, and vitamins and minerals) that they need.
It is not worth leaving this up to chance. Your baby is growing rapidly and you need to make sure that they have everything they need to grow. Different plant based milks have different nutrient profiles. Without doing a full diet assessment to figure out what else your baby is getting in their diet, it’s very hard to make a blanket plant-based milk recommendation for all babies.
What About Goat’s Milk?
Goat’s milk is becoming more popular in some circles of people who want to avoid cow’s milk for whatever reason. It is also a milk that is fairly popular around the world. So can goat’s milk be substituted for cow’s milk?
In general, goat’s milk is fairly nutritionally similar to cow’s milk. It has a stronger flavor that many people are not fans of, and also tends to be more expensive than cow’s milk. In the States, most people tend to look into goat’s milk due to an intolerance or allergy to cow’s milk. Goat’s milk does still have lactose in it, although in slightly less amounts than cow’s milk. There is nothing to say that a lactose intolerant person would be able to handle it better than cow’s milk. From an allergy standpoint, there is a slightly different structure of proteins in goat milk, but someone who is allergic to cow’s milk is often allergic to goat’s milk, too.
So the bottom line with goat’s milk is that it is ok to try for your baby if they can’t tolerate cow’s milk due to an intolerance. It is unlikely to solve an allergy problem, but if you feel strongly about trying it in that instance be sure to work closely with your pediatrician. Goat’s milk is much less readily available, and more expensive than cow’s milk, so for most people there is no benefit to drinking it.
After 1, if you continue to breastfeed and serve a varied solid food diet, there is no need to introduce cow’s milk. If your baby was fed formula or you are weaning from breastfeeding, then you should transition to cow’s milk. If you’d like to feed your baby anything other than cow or breastmilk, for whatever reason, be sure to work with a dietitian to ensure that your baby is getting all the nutrients that they need to grow and thrive!