Dr. Mona's Mom Blog

Transitioning to cow’s milk or a plant-based alternative

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Everything you need to know about introducing cow’s milk or alternatives

Let’s discuss!

When to introduce it? Why milk? What are some plant based alternatives to cow’s milk (with a look at nutrition labels)? What about toddler formula? How to introduce and how much should your child be drinking? I go over all of it in this post!

With all things diet and nutrition, clear anything with your child’s clinician, especially if your child has a known milk-protein allergy. 

When to introduce

If you are breastfeeding, continue to breastfeed as long as desired! This information is for if you are transitioning OFF of breastmilk or if you are formula-feeding your baby and are transitioning them to milk. The AAP recommends around the 1st birthday. In Canada, they recommend anywhere from 9-12 months. I personally support around the 10 months+/11 months mark, especially if you have already introduced yogurts and cheeses after 6 months of age.

Why can’t we introduce cow’s milk earlier than this time, but yogurt and cheese are okay?

For a few reasons.

First, the dosage: For the immature digestive system, we don’t want to overwhelm them with cow’s milk (and when drinking milk that is a lot more quantity). Milk and cheeses are okay after 6 months as long as there is no cow’s milk protein allergy that has been diagnosed via a doctor. Cow’s milk in general contains high concentrations of protein and minerals which can stress a newborns kidneys, which is why we reserve this until starting solids.

Lastly, cow’s milk doesn’t have adequate iron or Vitamin C that is needed for infants that they get from breastfeeding and formula.  

I do believe there are MANY options besides cow’s milk. We give cow’s milk or a plant based alternative because it’s nutritious. Milk provides calcium, protein, fat, vitamin A, and Zinc. All essential for healthy growth and development.

Can kids get these from food?

Absolutely! Hence why milk is in ADDITION to diet and not a replacement. Water with meals is recommended and milk is placed in with snacks/in the morning/etc. When looking at whole milk cow’s milk, the benefit is largely for the fat and protein content. Protein is great for development and the fat is great for toddlers 1-3 and their developing brains. 

Labels

  • Whole milk — 8g of protein, 8g of fat
  • 2% label — 8g of protein, 5g of fat
  • Nonfat — 8g of protein and no fat 

The AAP recommends for those who are not BF, whole milk until age two at which age we switch to 2%. If there is a family history of obesity, high blood pressure, or heart disease, your pediatrician may recommend 2 percent milk (reduced-fat) instead. Watch my YouTube video for a better explanation!

Alternatives

My most favorite alternatives for the 1-3 range are soy and pea milk. Goat also is great for those who prefer an alternative to cow’s milk. 

Comparing cow’s milk with goat milk

  • 9g protein
  • 10g fat

Cow’s milk with pea milk

  • 8g protein
  • 4.5g fat

Cow’s milk with soy milk

  • 7g protein
  • 4.5g fat

Almond and oat are other alternatives but don’t have as much fat and protein. If choosing a milk low in fat or protein, aim for protein rich healthy fat rich food! If you buy a milk alternative, remember to watch out for sugars!! Many milks have added sugars.

Does your child need toddler milk?

No, these are not needed and is just clever marketing and contain added sugars.

Ditch these and just do breast milk, cow’s milk, or a plant based alternative.

How to introduce

  1. Slowly wean (two options)
    • Mix half and half: Half formula/half cows milk for 3-5 days. Once they tolerate, you can go to 75/25 or 100. Move as fast as your child tolerates. We did a 1/2 and 1/2 method for 3 days and then went completely to whole milk.
    • Alternate one bottle of formula and one bottle of milk. I personally like the mixing method, but this method is okay too. if they have five bottles of formula/pumped milk; alternate until you completely move to cow’s milk (or the plant-based alternative)
    • With these methods you can focus on one bottle at a time. Remember, there may be dissent; but it’s important to be consistent. Once they mastered one bottle of cow’s milk, you can move to the next (or however quick you want).
  2. Cold turkey: Some kids will take to this much better. Simply go from formula/BM to cow’s milk–no mixing, no slow wean.

How much?

There is not MINIMUM amount they need as food is most important and you can incorporate yogurts and cheeses through meals/snacks. However, try to max out on no more than 24 ounces of cow’s milk as they can fill up on it.

What if they take LESS but are eating a variety of food? This is okay. If you are concerned of nutritional needs, speak to your pediatrician. But a varied eater who is not drinking milk, is not a problem!

PS: FIND OUT WHY I LOVE TURMERIC MILK!

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

It is the responsibility of the guardian to seek appropriate medical attention when they are concerned about their child.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or hospitals I may be affiliated with.