When Can Babies Have Milk and Dairy Foods?

  • Article
  • 1 min read April 19, 2022

Leading pediatric and health organizations recognize the benefits of milk and dairy foods in the early years after birth.

Birth to 6 months

Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for at least the first six months followed by breastfeeding along with a variety of nutrient-dense complementary foods from all food groups, including dairy foods such as cheese or yogurt, to support early growth and build a life-long foundation for healthy eating. Food allergies, including dairy milk allergy, are rare and typically develop in the first two years after birth, then decline through childhood. Pediatric and health organizations recommend introducing potentially allergenic foods, including dairy foods, after the first six months.

After turning 1

After the first birthday, whole dairy milk is recommended as the primary beverage, and water may be given to help quench thirst. As part of a healthy diet for 1- to 2-year-olds, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) recommends 1 2/3- to 2-cup equivalents of dairy foods (whole milk, yogurt, cheese) depending on daily calorie needs. Milk alone, with its 13 essential nutrients, is the No. 1 food source of energy, protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, vitamin A, magnesium and zinc for this age group.

For lactose intolerant children

For toddlers with confirmed dairy milk allergy, lactose intolerance or parental preference to avoid dairy foods, the only acceptable plant-based alternative to dairy milk is unsweetened fortified soy beverage. Other plant-based beverages lack or fall short of key nutrients found in dairy milk and have been linked to nutrient deficiencies and metabolic imbalances.

You can download our full report, “Science Summary: Dairy Foods Help Nourish Infants and Toddlers,” to learn more.