Congratulations, dear Moms and Dads! Your baby is soon going to turn 1! It’s time to introduce a new beverage to your baby’s diet: milk. Deciding on the right milk can be challenging for parents who want to always make the healthiest choices for their little ones.
Traditionally, in India, cow’s milk has been offered to babies. But this is also changing, as many parents are opting for non-dairy milk (or plant-based milk) for various reasons. The baby may have an allergy or intolerance to cow’s milk; the family may have cultural or religious dietary preferences; the parents may have chosen a vegan lifestyle; or simply because the parent dislikes dairy-based milk! Today, we’ll explore the different milk options and their pros and cons, so you can make a well-informed choice that’s comfortable for you and your baby!
Apart from this, we will also explore the difference between A1 and A2 milk, a discussion that has recently become popular in urban India.
The Deep Bond Between Babies & Milk
0-6 months: From birth to 6 months, babies rely exclusively on breast or formula milk for their nourishment. During this time, breast milk or formula remains the primary source of nutrition, complemented by the gradual introduction of solid foods.
12 months and above: Once your baby touches 1 year, you can begin incorporating some form of milk into their diet, and it's typically a good time to discontinue formula. Mothers are also advised to gradually reduce the amount of breast milk given to babies after their first birthday. Both WHO and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding babies up to 2 years of age.
What Type of Milk Can Babies Have?
1) Breast Milk: WHO recommends continuing breastfeeding until the age of 2 to fulfill the nutritional needs of toddlers.
- When is just breast milk enough? If you choose to continue breastfeeding beyond the first year – that's fantastic! A breastfeeding routine with approximately four nursing sessions per day will provide sufficient nutritional value for your toddler. In such cases, you need not introduce any other type of milk, as your child's needs are well met through breastfeeding.
- Why is breast milk fantastic? Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for both mother and baby. It delivers essential nutrition, hydration, and immune support to the infant. Breast milk also contains bioavailable nutrients, such as calcium, which is readily absorbed by the baby's body.
- When to offer breast milk? Remember that breast milk should never replace solid foods. Your baby should not be skipping meals in favor of nursing. Limit breastfeeding sessions as previously mentioned. It’s best to avoid breastfeeding immediately before or after a meal, as this might deter your toddler from consuming solid foods. Wait at least 40 minutes after a meal before nursing.
- Why does breast milk go from being a main actor to a supporting actor? Post 1 year, the focus shifts from milk to solid food as the primary source of nutrition. Breast milk should now be treated as a snack and not given on demand when the baby asks for it.
- How to include more dairy? If your baby does not have four nursing sessions a day, incorporate dairy products into their diet to meet their calcium requirements. For example, if your baby has two breastfeeds a day, consider adding one or two servings of dairy products to their meals.
Should you seek professional help? If your baby cannot or you prefer they not consume dairy for various reasons, consulting with a nutritionist or dietitian can help you design a well-balanced meal plan to ensure they do not miss out on any essential nutritional requirements.
2) Formula Milk: Breastfeeding may not be an option for every mother, especially if they've returned to work or gradually reduced the number of feeds after their baby turns one.
- Why is formula a familiar choice? Many babies have been on formula since birth, with formula serving as their primary source of nutrition for the first 6 months. This continues between 6 and 12 months, complemented by the introduction of solid foods.
- Should you change the formula with age? Various types of formula milk are available for babies post 1 year (Stage 2, 3, 4). But these are not necessary for your baby's nutrition. These advanced stages may contain slightly higher levels of iron and calories, but they typically do not make a significant nutritional difference. Some toddler formulas may also include added ingredients like sweeteners, which are best to avoid.
- Why is formula a less inconvenient option? If you choose to continue with formula, you can stick with the same formula you've been using (generally, Stage 1). But, formula milk is the more expensive choice compared to cow's milk or another milk variant, and it may be less convenient to carry compared to breast milk when traveling.
- Should you make the switch to cow’s milk? Whenever possible, it's a good idea to make the switch to cow's milk or an alternative milk after your baby touches 1 year. At this stage, babies typically do not require formula milk. If parents opt to continue with formula, that's alright too
- How to balance formula with solid meals? Remember, your baby’s consumption of formula milk should start to decrease once they turn 1: it should not exceed 400 ml in a day. Like breast milk, do ensure that formula consumption does not interfere with your baby's solid meal intake.
3) Cow’s Milk: Traditionally, cow's milk has been a popular choice when it comes to weaning babies off of breast or formula milk.
- Why don’t we introduce cow’s milk as a beverage before babies are 1? As mentioned in earlier articles too, introducing cow's milk as a beverage or using it in large quantities in their food before babies turn 1 is not recommended. Cow's milk can be tough for infants to digest; excessive consumption may interfere with the body's ability to absorb iron effectively. Once your baby celebrates their first birthday and displays a healthy appetite for solid foods, you can begin incorporating cow's milk into their diet.
- Why is cow’s milk a nutritional powerhouse? Full-fat cow's milk is an excellent choice as it is rich in essential nutrients crucial for your baby's growth and development. It offers a significant source of healthy fats, protein, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin B12, making it a wholesome food that fulfills many of your baby's nutritional requirements.
- Why is cow’s milk a traditional favorite in India? Cow's milk is readily accessible and affordable, making it convenient for many families. In some cases, cow's milk is also fortified with essential nutrients such as vitamin D, which is especially important for children. In India, there is a significant concern regarding vitamin A and D deficiencies among young children, so consuming cow's milk is a good way to prevent these deficiencies.
- Why full fat only? For at least the first 2 years of your baby's life, you should provide them with full-fat cow's milk and avoid skimmed or non-fat versions. This ensures that they receive the necessary healthy fats for their growth and development!
A1 v/s A2: Which Is Better?
Here's a short, simple explanation of the differences between A1 and A2 milk!
- What are A1 and A2? Casein, the predominant protein in milk (comprising around 80% of milk's total protein content), can exist in various forms. Of the approximately 13 different types, the two most common are A1 and A2 beta casein.
- What’s A1 beta casein? It is typically found in the milk of cows from European, Northern American, and Australian breeds. These cows have higher milk yields (around 15-20 liters of milk a day). Common A1 cow breeds are Jersey, Holstein Friesian, Ayrshire, and British Short horn. A1 cows are often referred to as hybrid cows.
- What’s A2 beta casein? It is primarily sourced from Indian-origin cows, such as Gir, Red Sindhi, Sahiwal, and Kankrej. While A2 milk is considered to be more nutritious and safer for consumption, these cows typically produce a lower milk yield (3 to 9 liters a day).
- Why this difference? Originally, when cows were first domesticated, they naturally produced A2 beta casein milk. However, over thousands of years, a natural genetic mutation occurred in European cows, altering the beta casein they produced and leading to the development of A1 milk.
- What’s the milk we get? The milk commonly available in the market is typically A1 milk or a combination of A1 and A2 milk. In India, you may have noticed an increase in A2 milk companies. Research about whether A2 is truly superior in quality and health benefits is ongoing, and current studies lack conclusive evidence.
- What should you choose for your baby? Choosing between A1 and A2 milk comes down to personal preferences, your baby’s tolerance to cow's milk, and the availability and affordability (A2 is costlier and less easily available than A1).
- Does A2 really have health benefits? Many people report feeling better and experiencing easier digestion with A2 milk, as it is often sourced from grass-fed cows. Grass-fed cows are typically free from drug and growth hormone injections and produce milk with higher levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, supporting brain and eye health, especially in children. Also, the anti-inflammatory properties of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) are greater in grass-fed or organically fed cow's milk. Choosing A2 milk can also mean supporting Indian farmers and cattle owners.
4) Buffalo, sheep, or goat milk: You can also consider offering buffalo, sheep, or goat's milk, which are A1-free. Their nutrition profiles are also quite similar to that of cow's milk, with the added benefit of higher fat, calorie, protein, and calcium content.
- When and how much to offer? Like cow’s milk, never offer buffalo, sheep, or goat milk to your baby as a beverage before 1 year. When opting for these milk alternatives, remember to offer them in small quantities, ensuring your baby's nutrition and safety.
- Can we offer raw milk? No! Any animal-sourced milk you offer must be pasteurized. Raw or unpasteurized milk, straight from the cow, goat, buffalo, or sheep, can have harmful bacteria and germs and is a serious risk to babies. The process of pasteurization involves heating the milk to a specific temperature to eliminate pathogens, rendering it safe for consumption.
Do 1-Year-Olds "Need" to Drink Milk?
First things first, understand that milk is not a mandatory part of your toddler's diet. However, it’s a convenient source of vital nutrients, making it a great addition to their daily intake. As your baby grows and transitions from breast or formula feeding to solid foods, milk can be a reliable source of calories, calcium, fat, and protein.
Babies often have small appetites, and milk serves as a familiar and nutritious beverage to bridge the gap between their early feeding habits and a more diversified diet. If your little one isn't particularly fond of milk or if you choose not to include it in their diet.
You can still ensure they receive the necessary nutrients through alternatives like dairy products (curd, paneer, cheese) and other solid food (green leafy vegetables, lentils, millets, sesame seeds, sprouts, nuts) that contain essential nutrients. For parents who want to exclude milk altogether, it's wise to consult with a dietician or nutritionist to prevent any potential deficiencies.
How Much Milk Can Babies Have?
Now that your child is over 1 year, you can introduce any top-up milk (mentioned above) into their diet, but in moderate amounts. Limit your baby's milk consumption to less than 400 ml a day when offered as a standalone beverage.
In addition to milk, you can provide other dairy products like curd, cheese, paneer, and so on to diversify their calcium intake.
Choosing Non-Dairy Milk for Your Little One: Our 5 Top Tips
Many children may have a sensitivity to cow's milk for various reasons like difficulty in digestion/intolerance or a milk protein allergy. It could also be because the parents have made a conscious decision for health or ethical reasons.
Several plant-based milk alternatives are available in India like soy milk, oat milk, cashew milk, almond milk, and rice milk. While these other milks might come close, they are not equal in terms of nutrition. Cow’s milk is the best choice for babies at this age. A lot of plant-based milks contain incomplete nutrition, potentially leading to deficiencies in babies, especially if these milk substitutes end up filling up their tummies and they miss out on the essential nutrients from the solid meals.
Here are some things to consider when selecting plant-based milk options:
1) Until your baby is 1 year old, they cannot consume any kind of dairy or plant-based milk as a beverage. You can use small quantities of plant milk to mix their food with, as you would use cow’s milk.
2) If babies are on a non-vegetarian diet, their dependence on milk for nutrition is lesser than babies who are vegetarians.
3) Fortified soy milk is one of the few alternative milk options that can help meet your baby's nutritional needs.
4) The nutritional content of plant-based milk will vary from brand to brand, so review the nutritional label carefully before you purchase.
5) Always opt for unflavored and unsweetened plant milk to avoid additional or hidden sugars. If the milk is fortified with calcium and Vitamin D, it's even better! Check the nutritional labels to ensure they are free from added sugars and low in preservatives, while offering a calorie and protein content similar to cow's milk.
6) None of these alternative milks should replace your baby's solid meals. After your baby turns 1, the primary focus of their diet should be balanced meals, with milk being the supplementary beverage.
Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives: Which Are Suitable for Your Baby?
Non-dairy milk alternatives should not be chosen for babies as a regular choice. Generally, a pediatrician or child nutritionist will advise this for babies in special cases.
1) Fortified soy milk: Fortified soy milk comes closest to cow's milk in terms of nutritional values. While it contains fewer carbs, calcium, Vitamin B12, protein, and fats compared to cow's milk, it is one of the best sources of essential nutrients compared to other plant-based alternatives. If your baby cannot have cow's milk, soy milk is the next best option.
2) Pea protein milk: Although not widely available in India, pea protein milk offers lower carb and fat content compared to cow's milk. It is often fortified with protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin D.
3) Oat milk: Oat milk is relatively low in fats and protein. However, it boasts a favorable amino acid profile compared to other non-dairy options. Many oat milk products are fortified with essential nutrients such as calcium, B12, and Vitamin D.
Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives: Which Are NOT Suitable for Your Baby?
1) Almond milk: You may have noticed that almond milk is absent from our list of “allowed” plant-based milks for babies. This is because almond milk lacks nutrients like protein, fat, calcium, and calories, which are required for your baby. Most almond milk products contain very little actual almond content and it’s mostly composed of water (note: this almond milk is different from “badaam milk,” a traditional Indian drink).
2) Coconut milk: Coconut milk has lower fat content, no protein, and very less Vitamin D; hence, it is not a favorable option for babies in terms of nutritional value.
3) Other alternatives: Other milk alternatives such as hemp milk, cashew milk, and rice milk may not offer the essential nutrients necessary for your baby's development, including calcium, protein, and vital vitamins and minerals.
When considering plant-based milk for your baby, we strongly recommend consulting a qualified dietitian or nutritionist, who can help you identify the most suitable option that meets your baby's nutritional requirements while ensuring there are no deficiencies.