Milk and babies go hand in hand. After all, babies do need milk to grow and develop.
We’re all familiar with breast milk, formula, cow’s milk- but where does almond milk fit into the mix?
Almond milk is a plant-based milk, made from a mixture of almonds and water. Wikipedia explains that, “It contains neither cholesterol nor lactose, and is often consumed by the lactose-intolerant and others who wish to avoid dairy products, including vegans.” It comes in a variety of flavors, as well as sweetened and unsweetened varieties.
We know almond milk is tasty, we’ve heard that it’s healthy…But is this popular milk alternative safe for babies to drink?
In short, yes and no.
Can babies drink almond milk? Yes. However, you should not consider offering almond milk to your baby until after their first birthday at the earliest, and even then there are some factors you will want to consider first.
Read on to see if almond milk is the right choice for your little one.
Under one? Don’t jump the gun.
In general, it is recommended that you wait until after your baby turns one year old to introduce any kind of milk other than breast milk or formula.
As outlined by MedlinePlus, proper nutrition is essential for your growing baby, and they need to consume the right amounts of vitamins, minerals, and good fats to develop properly. Breast milk or formula will best deliver those nutrients needed for your baby to grow and stay healthy throughout their first year.
All other forms of milk will not provide adequate nutrition for a growing baby under 12 months old, including cow’s milk. According to BabyCenter, “Babies can’t digest cow’s milk as completely or easily as breast milk or formula. Cow’s milk doesn’t have the right amounts of iron, vitamin C, and other nutrients for infants.” It also does not provide the right amount of healthy fats that growing babies need.
Healthline explains that almond milk would not provide sufficient nourishment for a growing child either. Almond milk is low in calories and fats, which may be appealing to adults, but infants need good fats in their diet to promote healthy brain and bone development. Almond milk will not provide adequate levels of those healthy fats that are crucial during their first year.
After their first birthday.
After your baby hits the one-year mark, many doctors will suggest making a switch to whole cow’s milk. At this time their bodies are more able to digest whole milk, in addition to a balanced diet of solid foods.
BabyCenter explains that milk is important for a growing child because, “milk is a rich source of calcium, which builds strong bones and teeth and helps regulate blood clotting and muscle control. It’s also one of the few sources of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium and is crucial for bone growth. Milk also provides protein for growth, and carbohydrates to give your child the energy he needs all day.”
Children at this age will be drinking approximately 16 to 20 ounces of milk per day.
Obviously milk is a main part of their diet and is packed with all sorts of nutrients that your little one needs, but what if your baby cannot consume dairy or lactose, or your family is looking for a vegan alternative? It is at this point that you may consider offering almond milk instead of cow’s milk.
Making the switch to almond milk.
If you have made the decision to give almond milk a try, it is important that you make sure your child’s diet plan also includes plenty of healthy fats, vitamins and other nutrients that would otherwise come from drinking traditional whole milk. Choose a whole-fat version of almond milk if possible, as well as an unsweetened variety to avoid any added sugars.
Although almond milk may not be the first recommended choice, it does contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, E and D, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, iron, fiber, zinc and calcium.
Healthline explains that, “The main nutritional benefits of cow’s milk are protein, calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D.” When you compare almond milk to cow’s milk or breast milk, they are all rich in vitamins A and D, but almond milk may lack sufficient levels of protein and calcium in comparison.
Your child’s diet will be balanced with various solid foods at this age, which may provide adequate protein sources. However, the average toddler typically does not get enough calcium regularly, hence the need for milk. Luckily most commercial brands of almond milk are now fortified with calcium to make it equivalent to cow’s milk, making almond milk an acceptable substitute.
As with all new foods and drinks, introduce gradually. Your child may not like the taste of almond milk at first. In this case, you may want to consider mixing it with breast milk or the formula they were already drinking until they get used to it.
Allergy or intolerance?
One of the most common reasons parents look to almond milk instead of cow’s milk is due to allergies or lactose intolerance.
It is important to understand the difference between allergy and intolerance.
Food Allergy Research & Education explains that, “A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific food protein.” Allergic reactions can be very serious and potentially fatal.
Food intolerances do not involve the immune system, but rather the inability to digest a certain food. Food intolerances may cause discomfort, but they are not life threatening.
With a milk allergy, the proteins found in milk are the main issue. These come in the form of casein and whey. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, “Allergy to cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in infants and young children. Approximately 2.5 percent of children younger than three years of age are allergic to milk.” Luckily, most children will outgrow their milk allergy as they get older.
Symptoms of Food Allergy Include:
- Trouble Breathing
- Loss of consciousness
If your child has any of these symptoms after consuming milk products, seek help immediately.
Lactose intolerance refers to the inability to digest lactose, which is the sugar found in milk products. Discomfort often occurs soon after consuming these products.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance typically include:
- Stomach cramps
- Abdominal pain
While almond milk is lactose, gluten, casein, and cholesterol free, it is important to remember that nuts are a very common allergy-causing food as well. Thus, it is possible that your child could have an allergic reaction to almond milk. Always take precautions when introducing your child to any new foods or drinks.
In a nutshell.
Almond milk can be an adequate substitute when cow’s milk is not an option for your baby.
Whatever your reasoning may be for considering offering almond milk to your child, please make sure you do not do so until after their first birthday.
Babies need the right amount of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats to grow and develop properly, which are best provided by breast milk or formula before one year of age.
As always, it is a good idea to consult with your baby’s doctor before making any major changes in their diet.
A note from the author.
This article hits home for me, as my own daughter just turned one and is unable to consume dairy products due to allergies and intolerance. She has been on a special formula called Elecare for most of her life, which is a completely hypoallergenic, amino-acid based formula.
We tried all sorts of formulas before we found Elecare, including others marked as hypoallergenic which she still had a reaction to. So when her first birthday came along, we knew the potential switch to whole milk was coming and didn’t know what to do.
Being almond milk drinkers at home already, my husband and I consulted with our daughter’s pediatrician at her 12 month visit in regards to offering almond milk to her as well.
She confirmed that this was an acceptable option, as long as the almond milk is calcium fortified. My daughter also already gets a Vitamin D supplement as well, which is often recommended for those not drinking whole milk. In addition, we are making sure she is getting adequate sources of all necessary vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, etc. in other areas of her diet as well.
So for those with babies who cannot have cow’s milk, don’t worry! I am living it too, and now know that almond milk is an acceptable alternative.