Author Anna Ritan, APD, BND, Paediatric Dietitian
With so many brands and types of dairy foods on the shelves, it can feel overwhelming to know where to start when you are ready to introduce dairy foods into your baby's diet. Infants have unique nutritional needs and developing immune and gastrointestinal systems and not all dairy foods are suitable for infants, even some that are marketed to infants.
This blog will take you through a few examples of the dairy foods I recommend for babies < 12 months to get you started, and a few of the dairy foods that I recommend avoiding.
Essential considerations for introducing dairy
Dairy foods can be a nutritious addition to your baby's diet once they are ready to start solids from around 6 months of age. There are a few essential considerations before introducing dairy to your infant:
- Remember, breastmilk (or infant formula) remains the primary source of nutrition during this time. Avoid giving your baby cow's milk as a drink as this is not a suitable replacement for breastmilk or infant formula and can lead to nutrition complications in infants. Small amounts of cow's milk can be used in recipes as part of a meal for your baby.
- Dairy is a common food allergen, recommendations are to include dairy before 12 months of age. Around 1 in 50 infants are allergic to dairy. Severe immediate allergic reactions to dairy can be life-threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency. Dairy foods should be introduced gradually, starting with a small amount like 1/4 of a teaspoon and increasing slowly over a few exposures if it is tolerated. Some reactions to dairy can be delayed, if you think your child is showing signs of allergy or intolerance seek medical assessment.
- Your baby needs fat to support their growth and development it is important to avoid skim, skimmer, light, reduced fat varieties of dairy products. Choose full fat always.
- Some dairy foods can be very processed and contain added sugar, flavours, preservatives, additives and colours or be high in sodium. Choosing plain, full-fat varieties will help to best support your baby's growth and development and also help them to accept the more sour tastes of food, which is important for preventing fussy eating.
Best dairy foods that you can include when starting solids
Full Fat Greek Yoghurt
Yoghurt is traditionally a fermented dairy product made by adding live bacteria to milk. Full-fat Greek yoghurt is full of nutrients like calcium, fat, vitamins A and B and a good source of protein, as well as probiotics.
Ingredients: pasteurised whole milk, cream, live probiotic cultures.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (the type preserved in water or whey) is naturally low in sodium, high in B12 and vitamin A as well as protein.
Ingredients: Pasteurised Cows' Milk, Salt, Non-animal Rennet, Starter Cultures
* Cheese can be a choking risk, avoid offering cheese in cubes, chunks or globs of melted cheese, as these shapes can increase risk of choking.
Creme Fraiche is a thick cultured cream and can be a good high-fat addition to your baby's diet to support their growth, also naturally low in sodium, and can be cooked or eaten as is.
Ingredients: Fresh Cream, Cultures.
Full Fat Ricotta
Fresh ricotta is high in calcium, B vitamins, vitamin A and protein. Ricotta is soft and easy to eat and can be served with fruits or vegetables and is also great used in recipes. Ricotta is much lower in sodium than some cheese and is usually <300mg sodium/100g
Ingredients: Pasteurised Cows' Milk, Salt, Rennet
Dairy foods to AVOID when starting solids
Some dairy foods can be very processed and contain added sugar, flavours, preservatives, additives and colours or be high in sodium, or even a higher risk of listeria. Here are some examples of dairy foods that I recommend avoiding for infants < 12 months and even up until over 2 years of age.
Flavoured yoghurts can contain added sugars, sweeteners, thickeners, and other preservatives or additives depending on the brand.
Some of these yoghurts are more like a sweet treat than a yoghurt.
Ingredients: Milk, Milk Solids, Cream (Milk), Strawberries (7%), Sugar, Thickener (Modified Starch), Natural Flavour, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Milk Minerals, Natural Colour (Carmine), Mineral Salt (509), Live Yoghurt Cultures
Baby custard mostly contains significant amounts of added sugar, along with other ingredients.
Ingredients: Whole Milk (61%), Water, Sugar, Whole Milk Powder (2.5%), Cocoa Powder (2.5%), Modified Starch (1422), Corn Starch, Natural Vanilla Flavour, Xanthan Gum. Sweetened.
Processed cheese slices
Processed cheese slices are significantly higher in sodium (even when compared to plain cheddar cheese). These slices contain 1350mg of sodium per 100g.
on average processed cheese slices are only around 40% cheese and contain added artificial food colours, preservatives and additives.
Ingredients: Cheese 41%, Water, Milk solids, Butter or cream, or milk fat, Mineral salts (331, 339, 341), Salt Food acid (270), Preservative (200), Colour(160b).
What about cheddar cheese?
You can wait until after 12 months of age to serve cheddar or harder cheese like parmesan. Cheddar cheese has higher sodium levels on average around 700mg of sodium per 100g. Small tastes here and there for babies or if it has been added to a family a meal is fine as an occasional food.
Cheese can form part of a healthy, balanced diet for toddlers and children, and provides calcium, protein, vitamins and fat.
Cheese is a common choking hazard for babies and children. To reduce the risk, , avoid serving in cubes, chunks or melted globs, instead slice super thinly or grate.
What about mould-ripened cheese like Brie or Camembert?
Mould-ripened soft cheeses, such as brie or camembert, or ripened goats' milk cheese and soft blue-veined cheese, such as Roquefort carry a higher risk of potential exposure to a bacteria called listeria.
Wait until your child is at least 12 months of age before introducing it. After 12 months these cheeses can be used as part of a cooked recipe as listeria is killed by cooking. Baked brie, for example, is a safer option.
For more check out my starting solids guide on foods to introduce to your baby, age stage guides and meeting nutrition needs.
For individual support and assessment, 1:1 appointments are available with Anna
an experienced and qualified paediatric dietitian and nutritionist with over 15 years of experience.