Ask Amma

Cow’s milk for babies?

In What on 26 September 2011 at 8:33 am

We get our fresh cow’s milk from our neighbour and she uses no oxytocin injections or other such chemicals. I’m aware of research from the west that finds against giving cow’s milk before 12 months, and that there is a risk of anemia and allergies but do you think this applies to Asian babies or in communities where cow milk consumption is highly prevalent? We would like to cut back on formula and thinking of introducing cow’s milk when our baby turns six months old, as many other rural families in Himachal Pradesh do.

– nursing mother with low supply

So sorry to hear about your supply difficulties.  Your concerns about formula milk ring true to me.  First let’s look at iron.  Studies show that the percentage of iron that babies absorb from milk is 50-75% for breast milk, 10% for cow’s milk and as little as 4% for formula milk.

I would first try to find milk from another human mother who was willing to supply.  She could nurse your baby or you could provide a pump and then feed the expressed milk by bottle, spoon or cup to your baby.  In exchange you could offer fruits or other goodies that would be helpful for the donor’s family.    La Leche League and Eats on Feets are groups that can help facilitate mother-to-mother milk sharing.

Second, the question of allergies that may arise from early introduction of dairy products.  To assess the risk level, before introducing milk from another animal, such as cow or goat, I would introduce a few drops on the skin and then by mouth, and increase gradually. At the first sign of allergic reaction or other problem I would slow down or stop entirely.  You can also test for dairy allergy if you are in doubt.    If he is not allergic to it, then even if the iron is poorly absorbed, there may be other nutrients in the milk that he will absorb.  Certainly the freshness of the milk available to you and the diet and exercise that the cows enjoy locally makes a difference, and you may want to look into raw milk as well.

At the same time I would also gradually increase the entire range of fruits, vegetables and grains in baby’s diet.

Sources: Dr. Sears  Nutrient by Nutrient
Mayo Clinic Milk Allergy Test
J Pediatrics 1977 Jul;91(1):36-9.  Iron Absorption in Infants

  1. […] When we drink milk of other animals, we are essentially getting is grasses and leaves (if the animals graze) or grains / animal feed (if they are in confinement), chewed and predigested by those animals.  We are also getting any other substances consumed by or injected into the mother animal, which are not necessarily good for us, or for the animal.  Even if the cow grazed freely on wonderful wild grasses, the milk cannot be superior to the milk of a human mother for a human baby.  Furthermore humans absorb nutrients from human milk far better than from cow’s milk. […]


  2. thanks for this really informative post.


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