We get a lot of questions around milk feeds here at Mamamade - particularly around dropping feeds and transitioning to cow’s milk at 12 months - so I thought I’d write this blog to share how I’m approaching it with Arthur, now that he’s 1.
We’ve decided as a family not to offer cow’s milk - so this blog will be particularly useful for vegan or plant-based-curious families, or for families whose babies suffer from CMPA and aren’t sure where to start.
By the way, if you’re still happily breastfeeding (my hero!!), there’s no need to make this transition. But if your baby is formula-fed, hopefully, you’ll find this useful! Please do let us know in the comments.
When should I transition my baby to cow’s milk or a cow’s milk alternative?
From 12 months, babies can have full-fat cow’s milk as the main drink in place of formula. Before this (from 6-12 months), it can be used as an ingredient in cooking or eating (i.e. added to porridge, etc), but isn’t a complete-enough source of vitamins to be offered as a main drink.
The assumption is that by 12 months, your baby is eating solids comfortably enough to be getting a variety of vitamins and minerals from food sources.
Why is cow’s milk the suggestion?
Full-fat cow’s milk is the go-to suggestion, because it’s a source of essential fat and nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, protein, vitamin A, and zinc. It ticks a lot of boxes for growing childrens’ needs! Also, here’s a friendly reminder that regardless, the recommendation for UK children is to have a supplement of vitamins A, C and D!
OK, so why not offer cow’s milk?
A lot of parents don’t have the choice - their babies cannot tolerate dairy or are allergic to cow’s milk protein (CMPA). Don't worry if you aren't familiar with CMPA we’ve got a blog all about it, click to read “CMPA (Cow's Milk Protein Allergy) Q&A - Here's What You Wanted To Know!” and “Cow's Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA): Signs & Symptoms”.
As it happens, Arthur can tolerate dairy just fine - but as a family, we tend to avoid animal products. This comes down mostly to our concerns around sustainability and animal welfare, and the confidence that we can feed our children well without relying heavily on animal products. It’s not terribly straightforward to ensure your baby is getting everything they need - so definitely consult a nutritionist to work with your specific needs as a family.
That’s what we did, and now I’m confident in our ability to provide a healthy, balanced diet that contains plenty of calcium, protein and energy - so that we don’t need to rely on a daily dose of cow’s milk to meet Arthur’s needs. But again, definitely consult with a nutritionist.
Which plant-based milk is best for children?
That being said, all plant-based milks are not created equal, and I’ve consulted with my trusted sources to find what would be best for our growing boy. If your baby has an allergy, it may be best for them to carry on with their specialised formula - that’s why it’s important to seek out advice!
But regarding which plant-based milk to choose for your baby, here’s the first thing to bear in mind: not all plant-based milks are suitable replacements for cow’s milk. It’s important to look for a version that’s been fortified with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and vitamin B2, and that contains similar amounts of protein, calories, fats and carbohydrates as cow’s milk.
The winner is...
Comparing labels, the best option by far was fortified soya milk. Alpro and M&S both have good ones, from what I’m told. If Arthur were allergic to soya, I would have explored fortified pea or oat milks, as almond is quite a bit lower in calories and protein, compared to cow’s milk.
How to transition to cow’s milk or cow’s milk alternative from formula
When I transitioned Liba away from formula, she refused milk at first. So I needed to do it gradually. I made her formula bottle as normal but replaced about 20% with the new milk. I then gradually adjusted the ratios until eventually, she was on 100% milk. It took quite a few weeks. I found it easier to get her used to the new milk in the usual bottle first, then do the transition from bottle to weighted-straw cup.
Arthur, being very Arthur, had no issue - he downed his first bottle of soya milk 1-2-3 without looking back. Every baby really is different.
So remember to be patient, trust your gut and if you aren't sure please do consult a professional. If you need a hand along the way Mamamade are always her to support you and your family!