Making the switch
Transitioning from breast or formula to cow's milk should begin when your baby is one year old. Claire O'Mahony gets the expert advice on how it's done
At 12 months old, your little baby will have reached, or will be reaching so many exciting developmental milestones. His vocabulary is rapidly expanding; he's standing up and might even have taken a few steps, and he's pretty nifty with a spoon when he's eating his 'big boy' food. This is also the age when you can start introducing cow's milk into his diet - before that, little systems are not mature enough to handle cow's milk, as it's very concentrated in protein.
For parents who are wondering how to tackle the transition from formula or breast to cow's milk, rest assured that it doesn't have to be difficult. Many parents prefer a gradual approach and slowly add whole milk to breast/formula milk, increasing the amount over time. According to Dr Nina Byrnes, GP and author of Your Health Matters, it's not a case of having to stop one and start the other.
"You can be giving some cow's milk and some formula; you can be giving breast milk and cow's milk. They don't have to automatically switch from one to the other, and often, it's not suddenly on day one of being a year old that they suddenly stop taking formula," she says.
Dr Byrnes is nutritional ambassador for Connacht Gold, which recently launched MÓR Milk (connachtgold.ie), which is specially formulated for children aged from one to 12 years, and fortified with iron, prebiotic fibre, and vitamins A, C, D, E and zinc.
Unlike other countries - such as the US, where the fortification of flour with folic acid is compulsory - Ireland does not have a strong tradition of fortifying foods. They are available, however, with the most common examples being breakfast cereals, cereal bars, milk and juice. In general, the medical expert believes that fortified foods are a good idea.
"Although in an ideal world, we would all be getting everything, getting our five-a-day and eating a broad diet, in reality, that doesn't always happen, so particularly with toddlers who can be fussy eaters and it's harder to get all the nutrients into, I really do think MÓR Milk is a great idea, because it really does give that extra bit of vitamins and minerals," she says.
She adds that constipation and iron deficiencies can be common problems in young children and that the latter can have a significant effect on children's growth and may lead to behavioural problems. Making sure that your little one is getting enough vitamin D can also be a concern.
"It's almost impossible to get enough vitamin D in your diet alone. Sunlight is your best source and we're too far north for enough sunlight," says Dr Byrnes.
Guidelines from the HSE suggest giving your child a beaker of milk at the three main meals a day, from one year on. This is approximately 600ml or one pint of milk a day in total. Drinking any more than this could reduce your child's appetites for solids, and can also stop your child from eating the variety of foods required to provide nutritional balance for this crucial time in their development and growth. The HSE also advises not to give low-fat milk to children under the age of two.
In recent years, the matter of food allergies has become a talking point, but cow milk protein allergy is not widespread.
According to the Irish Food Allergy Network (ifan.ie), its prevalence varies from 2pc-7.5pc; and between 75pc-90pc of children will grow out of it before five or six years of age.
"I'm not a big fan of cutting dairy out unless there's a genuine reason to do so," says Dr Byrnes. "I'd often say to parents with small babies who have symptoms suggestive of it [dairy allergy], to cut it out for eight weeks, and they know pretty quickly, because the baby either gets better or doesn't, and if there's no change, it's not the dairy. It's less common than we think."
Children aged from one to five, should be consuming three portions of dairy a day, as calcium is essential for bone growth. This can be provided by servings such as carton of yoghurt, a matchbox-sized portion of cheese or a 200ml glass of milk. Making the switch from formula or breast milk represents a change for babies in terms of their digestive system and taste buds. Not all children may necessarily like drinking milk, but there are ways to circumvent this.
"The great thing about milk is that the nutrients in it are not denatured by cooking," says Dr Byrne.
She advises that there are lots of ways of getting dairy into a child's diet, such as pancakes made with milk, milkshakes, smoothies, macaroni cheese or scrambled egg with milk.
"I'm big into sneaking stuff in kids' food," she says.