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Cow’s Milk for Infants

Nutritionally the first year of life is very critical for a baby and they deserve the best available food options. Exclusive breast feeding should be the primary option as it forms the basis of an ideal nutrition and is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for the first six months after birth. Cow’s milk is not considered appropriate for infants below one year and American Academy of pediatrics recommends iron-fortified infant formulas over cow’s milk for infants weaned before 12 months of age.
Although cow’s milk forms the basis of nutrition for older children and adults, but due to the following reasons it is not considered appropriate for infants.
  1. Iron deficiency is the most common deficiency among infants, cow’ milk is a very poor source of iron.
    Moreover iron present in breast milk is 100% absorbed by the baby compared to cow’s milk.
  2. Ordinary cow’s milk that lacks heat processing required for infant formula can lead to intestinal blood loss in infants.
  3. Besides iron, cow’s milk is also a poor source of vitamin C, vitamin E, essential fatty acids and copper. This can cause vitamin C deficiency in infants fed solely on cow’s milk.
  4. Young infants can not digest the fat present in cow’s milk as it is in very different form then that of breast milk or infant formula. For overweight babies, low fat milk is not the answer.
  5. Also the sodium level in cow’s milk is high, that exceeds the normal daily requirement of sodium of an infant. The potassium levels in cow’s milk are also high that together becomes difficult for an infants system to handle.
  6. Proteins in cow’s milk are approximately 2-3 times higher than that of breast milk or an infant formula.
  7. Cow’s milk allergy among infants is common than an adult. The immune system of an infant sees the high protein level in the cow’s milk as dangerous unconsciously and tries to fight it off. In the process an infant can become irritable and fussy and can get a stomach upset. Milk allergy should not be confused with lactose intolerance as it is very different form milk allergy. (In lactose intolerance the enzymes to digest the milk sugar lactose are lacking and it is rare in infants).
It is very important to achieve optimal nutrition in an infant by selecting an appropriate milk source and eventually introducing solid foods to the infant.
Submitted on January 16, 2014