When can I start giving my baby cow's milk?

Charles I. Schwartz, MD

Most pediatricians recommend starting whole cow’s milk after 12 months.

Christine Russell
Nutrition & Dietetics

You definitely want to wait until your baby is a year old before you give any cow's milk. Breast milk or infant formula provides the necessary vitamins and minerals your baby needs until that time. If introduced too early, your baby's kidneys will have a hard time digesting the protein found in cow's milk. Once you do start giving cow's milk, USDA recommends giving whole milk until your child is 2 years old. The extra fat in whole milk is needed for brain development. I wouldn't recommend giving low-fat milk to a one year old unless your doctor and a dietitian suggest it.

Iris Rodriguez-Johnson, MD
Usually one can start giving cow's milk at one year of age because you don't want to introduce allergens any earlier than this age. Also, baby formula provides extra nutrients to the infant that cow's milk does not have that the baby needs for brain growth.
Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics

A baby can be introduced to cow's milk at 12 months old. There are many reasons to wait until 12 months of age before incorporating cow's milk into a baby's diet. One of the most important reasons is that a baby's digestive system cannot digest the protein found in cow's milk. Cow's milk also has high levels of sodium, potassium, and chloride which can negatively affect a baby's kidneys. In addition, cow's milk does not contain all of the vitamins and minerals that the baby needs for growth and development in the first year. 

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics

A baby generally is mature enough to digest cow’s milk at one year of age. Regular checkups with a pediatrician are advised to assess a child’s development and readiness for new foods.

Annette Duncan
Nutrition & Dietetics

You may begin cow's milk after your baby turns 1. Whole milk is recommended - if your child is overweight I would recommend assessing the rest of their diet and remove any high calorie juices or candies before considering changing to low fat milk. Talk with a registered dietitian (RD) or your pediatrician if you have specific concerns.

After babies reach their first birthday, it's OK to give whole cow's milk provided your baby is eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods. If your child is overweight, or at risk for being overweight, your pediatrician may recommend reduced-fat (2%) milk.

Wait until your toddler reaches his/her second birthday to change to fat-free or low-fat milk. Discuss the appropriate choice for your child with your pediatrician or registered dietitian.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.