The UK department of health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for around the first 6 months of life. For those who are not breastfeeding, infant formulas are recommended instead for the first 6 month of life. Although these formulas are based on cows’ milk, the milk is treated first to make it suitable for babies.
For standard Cows’ milk, the current recommendation is not to offer this to infants as a main drink until a baby reaches at least 12 months of age.
However before this, it is fine to offer full-fat cows milk and other dairy products as an ingredient in baby’s foods from 6 months of age. For example, milk can be added to cereals, in cooking or a 6 month old can have a natural yogurt or cheese with meals or snacks in their diet.
Why is cow’s milk not suitable as a drink for babies?
Cows’ milk does not contain the balance of nutrients that young infants and babies require in the first year of life. For example Cows’ milk does not contain enough iron, vitamin E or essential fatty acids, for a young baby. It may also be too high in protein, sodium and potassium too.
Once a formula fed baby gets to 12 months of age they can quite safely switch onto full fat cows’ milk, as long as their diet is well balanced at this stage. It’s important to offer full fat cows’ milk as this has more vitamin A than semi skimmed milk. Once your little one gets to 2 years of age, you can switch to semi-skimmed milk if it is more convenient for the rest of the family and if you feel your little one is eating a well-balanced diet.
Arla have produced a fresh whole cows’ milk called “Big Milk”, which is suitable from one year of age or for when a mother decides to switch from breast or formula milk to whole cows’ milk (as long as this is after 1 year of age). Big Milk is simply the same as full-fat fresh milk but it contains added vitamin A, vitamin D and iron. These nutrients are often low in infant’s diets or are recommended by the Department of Health for young children. Read more on vitamin drops recommended for children here.