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Is cow’s milk safe for a 9-month-old?
Q: I was told that children under 1 year should not have cow’s milk. Is it safe to give a 9-month-old yogurt even though it’s made with whole milk? Also, I was wondering what sort of cheese is OK to give her. She is a very hearty eater and has had no problems with any food so far.
A: Lisa, you are correct that it’s recommended to wait until your baby turns 1 year to give her cow’s milk. During your baby’s first year, milk is the main part of her diet. Cow’s milk does not have the complete nutrition that babies need. While cow’s milk is perfect for baby cows, it is not perfect for human babies. It is too low in iron and vitamin C and too high in protein and minerals compared to breast milk, which is the perfect food for human babies, or formula, which has been designed to imitate the components of breast milk. As a result, babies under 1 year who drink cow’s milk instead of breast milk or formula are more likely to develop anemia and other health problems.

On the other hand, if your baby is drinking breast milk or formula as recommended, and she’s over 6 months of age and hasn’t shown an allergy to cow’s milk, it’s fine to give her the small amount of cow’s milk in yogurt and cheese. (Although milk allergy is the most common food allergy, only 2 to 3 percent of young children are allergic to milk.) Yogurt and cheese are nutritious and particularly good sources of calcium and protein. Here is some more information about yogurt and cheese:

1. Yogurt:
  • Yogurt contains “good” bacteria or “probiotics,” including lactobacillus or acidophilus. These help populate a baby’s intestinal tract with healthy bacteria and prevent diarrhea caused by intestinal infections with harmful bacteria and viruses. Studies have shown that lactobacillus can help prevent other infections (including ear infections, sinusitis and pneumonia) as well as allergic conditions (including eczema skin rashes, food allergies and asthma). If your baby needs to take antibiotics (e.g., for an ear infection), feeding her yogurt can help reduce the diarrhea caused when the antibiotics wipe out some of the healthy bacteria in the intestines.
  • Give your baby full-fat yogurt rather than low- or non-fat. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends whole milk products until 2 years of age because babies need the fat and calories in their diet for proper growth and brain development.
2. Cheese:
  • Start with soft cheeses. Cottage cheese, ricotta and semi-soft cheeses like mozzarella and jack are easy to chew. If you give your baby semi-soft cheese, be sure to grate it or cut it into narrow strips or small cubes to prevent choking.
  • Make sure the cheese is pasteurized. Unpasteurized cheese can have harmful bacteria that can make babies and adults very sick.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician