MILK FOR BABIES - WHAT MILK CAN MY BABY DRINK?
The milk you give to your baby is a very personal decision and one that might change as your baby grows. Choosing milk for babies is a divisive topic and it can be difficult to have a discussion with your healthcare professional or family about what milk is best.
Knowing which milk is safe for babies at each stage of their development is an important starting point. Ultimately you are the only person who can decide what milk to give to your baby so this guide can help you navigate the complex world of baby milk.
Milk for babies: 0-6 months
From birth, only breastmilk or infant formula milk is suitable to give to your baby.
Breastmilk can come directly from mum, but can also be expressed and given in a cup or bottle. Donor breastmilk is available, either through breastmilk banks at the local hospital or within breastfeeding support groups - although, with this second option, the milk and donors are not screened.
If your baby is premature, they may be given expressed breastmilk with a fortified added to it. This supports your baby's development and growth.
RELATED: 5 tips for positive breastfeeding
First infant formula, or stage 1 milk, is the only suitable formula milk for babies from birth. There are lots of brands out there all competing to be the one that you choose, but they are all equal in the nutrition that they provide for your baby.
There are very strict guidelines about what an infant formula milk needs to provide, so you can be assured that whichever brand you choose, your baby is getting what they need.
Milk for babies: 6-12 months
There is no reason to change milk once your baby turns 6 months, and starts eating solid foods.
Both breastmilk and first infant formula continue to provide your baby with the nutrition they need. They will of course be supplemented by the food that you give, but these milks are designed to be the main source of nutrition until your baby approaches 12 months.
Breastmilk continues to be an important source of antibodies for your baby. As they start to move and explore the world around them, this will help their immune system to develop further.
RELATED: Breastfeeding- the ups and downs.
Although Stage 2 milk, or Follow-On Formula, exists, it is not necessary for your baby. A stage 1 milk will continue to provide everything your baby needs, alongside their new diet of food.
Stage 2 milk contains small differences from Stage 1 milk, but these are rarely big enough to make a difference to your child. However many parents do choose to use them for a number of reasons, and they are perfectly safe options for your baby.
At this age, it is not recommended to give cows' milk for babies to drink, or to use a plant-based alternative. This is because the nutrients provided by these kinds of milk are not comparable with breastmilk or first infant formula. If a baby were to drink these kinds of milk in the same quantities as breast or formula milk, they would not be getting the right nutrition to support their growth.
Milk for babies: 12 months +
Breastmilk continues to be a good choice of milk for babies beyond 12 months. In fact, the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding until the age of 2.
Infant formula milk is not recommended beyond 12 months. After this age it is no longer necessary, as your baby will be getting a mixed diet to provide the nutrients they need.
This may be different if your baby is prescribed specialist formula milk for a health condition, so do check with your health professional if this is the case.
It is common practice to offer cows milk for babies after 12 months of age, but this is not the only option. Some plant-based alternatives are also suitable, but these should always be fortified with at least calcium.
Where cows' milk is given, it should be full fat until 2 years of age. This is because milk for babies can be an important source of fat, which babies need to grow well.
Choosing milk for babies
The choice of milk you make will likely vary depending on how old your baby is, your family situation, and a whole range of other reasons. This guide to milk for babies is a starting point to make your decision easier, but do reach out if you need extra support in making the right choice for you.
Often when you reach specific milestones, it is a reason to review the choice of milk you are giving, whether that is at 6 months as you introduce solids, when you return to work, or choosing to move your baby to a vegan diet. I can support you in making that transition and choosing the right milk for you and your baby.
I work with families on a 1:1 basis, around any challenges they are facing with their child's food and drink, including moving onto different milk.
For UK advice on milk feeding, visit the NHS website.