I get many questions regarding dairy, and why we limit our personal dairy intake.
Firstly I’ll start with the ever popular thought that after 12 months baby should be transitioned from breast/formula to cows milk. This is unfortunately what a lot of baby health nurses will advise, however I personally do not agree. If baby is still happily breastfeeding at 12 months and you’re happy to continue then do so! Babies don’t ‘need’ formula at 12 months as they should be able to gain all essential nutrients from food (given that they have a balanced nutrient dense diet).
Cows milk in particular is recommended to avoid until atleast over 12 months, this is because pasteurised cows milk is very hard for little (and often big) tummies to digest. Unfortunately raw milk isn’t available to purchase for consumption due to listeria risks, however the alternative is pasteurised (heat treated) cows milk. The pasteurisation process does kill the potential bad bacteria, but in the same time it also kills lactase - which is the enzyme responsible for assisting lactose digestion. Unfortunately it also kills any GOOD bacteria/probiotics that the milk held, denatures proteins, destroys enzymes, vitamins and minerals.
So essentially, what you’re left with is a digestive system that doesn’t know how to breakdown the lactose without the help of lactase and in effect can be left with symptoms like bloating, gas, stomach pain and bowel irregularities. One of the main reasons we limit our cows milk consumption is that I found it gives my 3 year old son very loose bowel motions!
Cows milk is also highly allergenic, one of the main contributors to eczema, can cause cold symptoms such as a constant runny nose, phlegm and congestion, earaches and can lead to low iron stores as calcium and casein affects iron absorption.
So, is this the same for all dairy? Short answer, no. Foods such as milk kefir, greek or natural yoghurt, organic grass fed butter, ghee, cheese such as labneh & goats milk are all good forms of dairy because they are generally low in lactose, are loaded with probiotics and enzymes that make it easier to digest and good for your gut. These foods can be introduced from 10-12 months and are a great addition to your babies diet.
What about calcium? The above foods mentioned are loaded with calcium, and baby will also get calcium through breastmilk. Other foods loaded with calcium include: sardines (don’t discard the bones), salmon, seeds (chia, poppy, sesame), beans & lentils, almonds, dark leafy greens, seaweed, tahini & tempeh.
Friends of calcium that increase absorption include vitamin D (whether through diet, exposure to sunshine or supplements), vitamin K (found in green leafy vegetables) and magnesium (again through diet or supplement). Being active, moving, weight bearing and muscle strengthening exercise also helps.
Calcium also has some foes, phytic acid is one which is common in many grains (I have a post on soaking and sprouting grains here), an unhealthy gut, alcohol, low vitamin D and too much salt intake.
What if my toddler still wants a bottle of ‘milk’ after weaning? Some good comfort bottle options (after 12 months) may include coconut milk, nut milk, seed milk (watch for hidden sugars/preservatives and additives), bone broth, herbal tea such as chamomile. Please be mindful that these ‘comfort’ bottles are an ADDITION to a healthy nutrient dense diet and not a replacement. You can increase the nutrient content to a bottle of nut milk by adding probiotics, cod liver oil, vitamin D spray etc. If unsure about supplements have a chat to a naturopath/nutritionist, personally I use metagenics which is practitioner prescribed.
What if I would like to give cows milk? Choose as close to the natural source as possible - grass fed, organic, non homogenised and or cold pressed. If you have a fussy toddler who loves their milk, you could start doing half/half bottles of cow and coconut for example and gradually weaning the cow milk down. We actually don’t buy cow milk in our home so the option just isn’t there (which my mum is often upset about when she babysits for her cup of tea!)
I hope this information helps you, and most importantly informs and educates you to make your own decisions regarding you and your families food choices!