Whole Cow’s Milk to Aid in Infant Formula Shortage

Jamie Hampton, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources and Sarah Amelung, Program Assistant, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program, Auglaize County, Ohio State University Extension

Cow’s make some of the most nutrient dense foods that we know of. But can we feed it to infants?  This is the million-dollar question. There is no short answer. With the formula shortage and parents struggling to find milk for their babies, the light has turned to the dairy industry to help provide that answer.

For children over 6 months of age that are on a regular formula and do not have any specific dietary issues or restrictions, whole cow’s milk may be an option. This does not include any other animal milk option. If you are out of formula and cannot find formula, call your pediatrician and discuss with them the option of using whole cow’s milk for a brief period. It is not recommended to use cow’s milk for more than a week for children of this age.

Cow’s milk provides many essential nutrients, including protein, phosphorus, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium. But there are some nutrients that babies need that is lacking in cow’s milk, such as iron and vitamin C. The protein and fat in cow’s milk cannot be digested properly by infants under 1 year of age, causing stress on their kidneys and intestines. 

If you find yourself in a position that you need to use cow’s milk for your infant, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you start with a half formula, half whole milk mixture. This will help the child with the change in taste, and it will help the gut of the child adjust to the new digestion that will need to take place. It is important to use full fat milk and monitor your child for possible food allergies during this transition and to keep in contact with your child’s pediatrician. Signs of allergies can include blood in the stool, vomiting, signs of dehydration and/or rash. If you notice these signs, call your pediatrician right away.

You may be wondering when is a good time to introduce baby to dairy? According to an article by Dr. Elizabeth Zmuda DO FAAP, FACOP, babies that can sit up and start to show interest in solid food usually around 6 months of age. As the baby moves from purees to thicker foods, you can start to introduce foods such as cottage cheese and yogurt. It used to be advised to wait to introduce foods that may cause an allergy until the baby is one to two years old; however, it has been shown that earlier exposure decreases the risk of food allergy. If your family has a history of food allergies, talk to your pediatrician before introducing this food.

At 12 months, a baby can begin to transition from breastmilk or formula to whole cow’s milk. Milk provides essential nutrients; with 2 to 3 servings of dairy products per day, your baby will continue to get the nutrition they need to grow and develop. Health experts recommend water and cow’s milk as the primary beverage for children 1 to 5 years of age. Dairy can be part of a healthy diet throughout life, thus drinking milk with your child models a healthy lifestyle for them.  

Web based references:

American Academy of Pediatrics (Aap.org)


US Department of Agriculture (Usda.gov)