Dairy for Babies
When I was a mom just starting solids with my baby I was very confused by the rules around dairy. It was clear that my little one wasn’t supposed to drink cow’s milk–only breastmilk or formula. But, on the other hand, there was yogurt marketed towards babies. And what about cheese? Or if I gave my baby a few bites of pancake made with milk, was that okay? If you have ever wondered–can babies can have dairy?–here’s the scoop!
The part about drinking cow’s milk (or goat’s milk or any other milk) is correct. Before age 1, breastmilk or formula should be a baby’s primary beverage. Cow’s milk is hard for a baby to digest and may fill him up too quickly, taking up the tummy space needed for other foods. Plus, breastmilk and formula were created especially for babies’ nutrient needs. Once your baby has turned 1, continue to breastfeed if you’d like and/or introduce full-fat cow’s milk. There’s no need to continue formula after age 1. (And unless your pediatrician recommends it, skip those toddler formulas. They’re expensive, often made with added sugars, and offer little, if any, benefit to normally-growing children.)
So no drinking cow’s milk, but the good news is that yogurt and cheese are stellar baby foods. They provide protein, important fats for your baby’s development, and crucial minerals like calcium. Here’s how to serve them.
Choose full-fat, plain yogurt, either regular or Greek-style/Icelandic. Neither total fat nor saturated fat should be restricted when your baby is under one year old. These fats are important to help your baby feel full, for vitamin absorption, and for brain development. Pick plain because flavored yogurts have a lot of added sugars, which we want to avoid for babies. (All yogurts have some natural milk sugars, but you don’t need to worry about those.) You can always flavor the yogurt yourself. My favorite brands include Siggi’s, Maple Hill, and Wallaby, but use whichever your family prefers!
Here are some easy ways to serve yogurt to your baby:
- Mix with fruit or vegetable puree for spoon-feeding or self-feeding with a pre-loaded spoon
- Blend it into a smoothie
- Blend it into a smoothie and freeze into a pop–see the recipe below!
- Spread onto toast sticks
- Stir into hummus or another dip
- Smash with hard-cooked eggs for an easy egg salad
While cheese can be quite salty, if you offer it in limited quantities it can introduce a new flavor to your baby and make whatever she’s eating taste even better! Let your baby in on the joys of cheese early with one of these simple ideas:
- Grate a semi-firm cheese like cheddar and offer it to your baby for self-feeding
- Stir a bit of grated Parmesan cheese into a vegetable or meat puree
- Spread cream cheese or goat cheese onto toast sticks
- Make a grilled cheese sandwich and cut into small pieces
- Top pasta with a sprinkle of finely grated mozzarella
- Add grated Parm to meatballs before baking
- Add a dollop of ricotta cheese or creme fraiche to eggs when scrambling or making an omelet
It’s also okay to use cow’s milk in baking for your baby. Those pancakes I wanted to give my babe? Totally fine.
One note: dairy is one of the top eight allergens. If your baby eats dairy and exhibits mild symptoms such as hives, redness of the skin around the eyes, vomiting, or diarrhea, speak with your pediatrician. Should your baby ever experience severe allergy symptoms, including swelling of the lips, difficulty swallowing, or shortness of breath, call 911 or go to the emergency room. You’re all set if your baby already drinks and tolerates traditional formula, since most formulas are derived from dairy.
Fruity Pops Recipe
Here’s a dairy-rich recipe you could try from my cookbook Baby-Led Feeding that’s perfect for a hot summer day or for babies who are teething. When peaches are out of season I prefer using partially defrosted frozen peach slices instead of the rock-hard supermarket options.
1/2 cup finely chopped peaches
1/2 cup raspberries
1/2 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt
Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Stir to combine evenly. Transfer the mixture to ice pop molds and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.
Love these adorable ice pop molds? Me too! Find them here.
Do you have other ideas for serving dairy for babies? I’d love to hear!
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Ice pops photo by Lauren Volo