When Should I Introduce Dairy to my Baby?

This article comes to us from guest blogger and child-feeding expert; Kristen Yarker from kristenyarker.com. She provides us with another commonly asked question about food and sleep. You can read Kristen’s previous guest blog articles, “Will Starting Solids Help Your Baby Sleep Better” here and “How to Stop Your Toddler’s Food-Related Stalling Tactics” here and ” Are Snacks at Bedtime a Good Idea?” here.

On our recent Facebook chat, several parents asked me about when they can introduce cow’s milk, yogurt, cheese, etc to their babies.

The recent recommendation from Health Canada, the Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and the Breastfeeding Committee of Canada is*:

“If parents and caregivers are introducing cow milk…delay until 9 – 12 months of
age…limiting cow milk intake to no more than 750mL (3 cups) per day.”

But first let me explain the reason behind the recommendations because I think that it will help you understand what to feed your baby. It’s not that there is something in dairy that’s unsafe for babies. The recommendation is related to iron. Iron is important for babies’ growth and in particular their brain development. There are 3 ways that dairy foods can be a concern with respect to iron:

1. Dairy foods aren’t a source of iron.

2. Many babies love drinking cow’s milk and eating other dairy foods. Thus, the dairy foods can crowd out iron-rich foods.

3. Dairy foods can interfere with babies’ absorption of iron.

So the recommendation was created to provide advice on how to include cow’s milk in a way that doesn’t interfere with babies’ need for iron. It’s above 3 cups per day that we start to see the negative effects of cows’ milk on eating iron-rich foods and iron’s absorption. This can result in iron deficiency.

Here are my responses to related questions that I’m frequently asked:

Question: Does this mean that I need to wait until 9 – 12 months to give my baby cheese and yogurt? What about foods that contain cow’s milk?

Answer: No. Any time from about 6 months onwards, feel free to introduce small amounts of yogurt and (pasteurized) cheese amongst the wide variety of foods that you’re introducing to your baby. Just don’t make yogurt or cheese a food that you’re giving large amounts of, day after day. Make them a ‘sometimes’ food, not a ‘frequent’ food. The same goes for other foods that use cow’s milk as an ingredient, such as sauces and dips.

Q: 9 – 12 months is a big age range, should I wait until 9 months or 12 months?

A: The reason behind the age range is that you want your baby to be regularly eating a good amount of solid foods multiple times a day before you introduce cows’ milk. Like learning any new skill, some babies master eating solids quicker and some take longer to actually get any significant amount of food in them (as opposed to on their face and clothes, in their hair, and on the floor). If your baby is eating lots of solid foods (particularly iron-rich foods), feel free to start introducing small amounts of cows’ milk after 9 months. If your baby is slower to get the hang of eating solids (particularly iron-rich foods), wait until 12 months.

* http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/infant-nourisson/recom/recom-6-24-months-6-24-mois-eng.php

Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD

Child-Feeding Expert

Helping Moms and Dads support their picky eaters to try new foods on their own (without

being forceful or sneaky)



Twitter: @kristenyarker

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