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At What Age Can a Baby Start to Drink Whole Milk?

Question number 5 in a recent 15-question survey about childhood nutrition and safety was “At what age can a baby usually start to drink whole milk?”

Dr. Amanda Soong, pediatrician, professor, and mother of two, decided to survey and have a conversation with grandparents about recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) after a conversation with her own mother about sleeping arrangements for her infant.

Since many grandparents are also primary caregivers, and since many recommendations have changed since Boomers raised our children, Dr. Soong felt it was important for us to understand what prompted the current AAP recommendations.

Grandparents flunked many of her questions, but they did well on this one.

Sixty-three percent got the right answer.

This is no different from what we were told when our children were young, but now there is more research to back it up.

Here were the choices for grandparents taking the survey and the percentage who picked each answer.

At what age can a baby usually start to drink whole milk?

  • 6 months (14.3%)
  • 9 months (12.2%)
  • 12 months (63.3%) (right answer)
  • 15 months (10.2%)

It turns out that if children under one year of age start drinking cow’s milk, they are at risk for anemia.

Both iron-fortified formula and breast milk have more iron or more iron available to an infant’s system than cow’s milk.

Since 1971, when pediatricians started recommending breast-feeding or iron-fortified formula, anemia in infants has dropped from 15-30% to 3%.

Infants below one year do not have mature enough digestive systems to get the protein they need from milk and it does not have enough iron in it.

Further, when babies start drinking cow’s milk, it should be whole milk because they need the extra fat to develop their brains.

I asked Dr. Soong about this specifically, because most young mothers I know are trying to watch their weight by drinking 2% or non-fat or low-fat milk, so that is what they are likely to have in their refrigerator.

When I told my awesome daughter-in-law, Brigid, who told me about this survey in the first place, about my conversation with Dr. Soong, she told me she knew young mothers who kept three kinds of milk in their refrigerators, ranging from whole to 2% to low-fat, depending on the ages of their children.

But, Dr. Soong was firm. Whole milk for children.

Except in extreme cases, they do not need to and should not be drinking low-fat milk.

How about a grilled cheese sandwich for children under a year?

Dr. Soong said that a bite or two of a grilled cheese sandwich or macaroni and cheese, or a slice of American cheese is ok since it is a relatively small portion of their overall nutrition.

Click on the University of Michigan for an overview of feeding guidelines for infants and children.

Click on Soong to hear my audio interview with Soong Q5 whole milk.

Did you avoid cow’s milk while your grandchildren were under one year?

Do you give your grandchildren whole milk now?

How many kinds of milk do you have in your refrigerator?

Get our free report on how things have changed since Boomers raised our children, How to Leap the Generation Gap: 58 Reasons Child-Rearing Is Different Today, below and get more posts like this one on Child Safety and current recommendations:

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To you and the health of your precious grandchildren.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”


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