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Now that your baby has celebrated his first birthday, he is ready for another milestone — switching from breast milk or formula to cow’s milk. 

Making the Switch

You may be wondering why you have to wait until your baby is a year old before he can be fed cow’s milk. This is because newborns are not able to digest cow’s milk as easily and fully as breast milk and formula. A newborn's kidneys may not be able to process the high concentrations of protein and minerals present in cow's milk, which may result in dehydration. As the iron level in cow’s milk is low, your baby may also miss out on the nutrition he needs if he is fed cow’s milk before the age of one. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends whole milk for babies between the ages of one and two years old, unless they are at risk of becoming obese. The high level of fat and vitamins is needed for babies to grow. If your baby is eating well, you can start introducing semi-skimmed milk after the age of two. But avoid feeding your baby skimmed milk or non-fat milk below the age of five as these do not contain enough calories and nutrition.

Why Cow’s Milk?

At the age of one, your baby should be getting most of his nutrients from solid food, and as such, can benefit from taking cow’s milk as a drink. Many mothers may switch to feeding their babies cow’s milk at this point, as it is an easily accessible and convenient source of calcium, protein, vitamin D and riboflavin — an essential B vitamin that supports your baby’s growth and bone, muscle and nerve development. A healthy diet supplemented with cow’s milk will give your baby the nutrition he needs for healthy growth.

Of course, if you and your baby are more comfortable with breastfeeding, feel free to keep it that way. In fact, the World Health Organisation recommends mothers continue breastfeeding as a source of complementary feeding for as long as desired.

What if My Baby Does Not Like Cow’s Milk?

You can try to incorporate cow’s milk into your baby’s diet by mixing it with breast milk or formula milk, before slowly increasing the amount until he is drinking solely cow’s milk. To start with, feed your baby a mix of one-quarter cow’s milk to three-quarters breast milk or formula milk.

You can also try introducing cow’s milk into his diet by cooking oatmeal with milk instead of water or adding milk to a smoothie. If all else fails, you may try feeding your baby yoghurt or cheese to meet his daily calcium requirements. Do note that milk and other dairy products are usually fortified with vitamin D.

Be sure to check with your doctor before feeding cow’s milk to your baby if he has any special dietary requirements, or may be at risk of developing an allergy.

Read more:

Getting ready for solids
Early childhood nutrition