As soon as your baby turns 6 months or so, most family members start stressing on giving your baby a top feed and stop breastfeeding. As cow's milk is rich in nutrients, power packed with protein, vitamin and good source of iron. There was a time in India, when most women breastfed their babies, and for prolonged periods. But, now society has changed. Urbanization, work stress, family pressure, unwillingness to talk about breastfeeding, and several other reasons make most moms jump to a common ill-founded conclusion – a tall glass of cow's milk is good for the child.
Talking about my particular case: my purpose was not to stop breastfeeding my baby. The reason why I was considering cow's milk was because I wasn't sure if the breast milk was sufficient for his growth. This is why I consulted the doctor.
I am sharing the details of my conversation with my baby's paediatrician and the research I did to make sure I can give the best to my baby.
1. Can I Give My Baby Cow's Milk?
This is what the paediatrician said: “Your baby is 7 months old, and you should breastfeed him. If there is a problem, you can consider formula-milk which is specially designed milk for babies at this age. However, if you find it expensive, then you may go for cow's milk or buffalo milk.
But as far as possible, your first choice should always be breastfeeding your son. I will not recommend cow's milk for the baby before 12 to18 months."
2. Cow's Milk vs. Breast Milk
I asked the paediatrician to tell me more about breast milk and cow's milk and how they compared against each other. His answer really cleared my mind. He told me that breast milk is rich in nutrient and fulfils all vital needs of growing baby. Breast milk is a rich in antibodies to keep many problems at bay. Breast milk has all necessary protein building and immunity strengthening components. Breast milk is also easy digest.
On the other hand, cow's milk does have calcium, protein, iron and other vital nutrients. But all these ingredients are present in high dosage. This makes cow's milk difficult for the baby's delicate digestive system and puts extra unnecessary stress on it.
To understand this better my doctor gave me the example of sour milk. He said, "You have seen sour milk: it has two parts, the liquid or watery part whey, and curd, or the white clots, the thick part which is mainly the casein protein. Cow's milk is majorly that thick part, whereas the breast milk has whey part is major. Whey part is easy to digest whereas curd puts a load on digestive system."
3. Why Cow Milk May Not Be a Good Idea For The Baby
• Difficult to digest
The concentrated levels of proteins and other nutrients make it difficult to digest cow's milk by baby's gut. This in turn leads to problems like constipation, stomach ache, gas, colic, and diarrhoea.
• Anaemia in infants
Cow's milk doesn't have sufficient iron required for the baby's healthy growth. This can lead to piles (where baby will pass blood in the stools). This may make the infant or baby anaemic and iron deficient.
• Allergic reactions
Cow's milk may lead to certain types of allergies in babies. This can be rash, skin irritation, and fever. Sometimes ingestion of cow's milk may lead to irritating the digestive lining of the gut which causes kidney malfunction and bleeding in bowels.
4. When and How to Start Feeding Your Baby Cow's Milk?
My doctor said, "Your child will be able to digest the cow's milk once he turns one." He suggested offering cow's milk in a proportion of 3/4th formula and 1/4th cow's milk for a week in a sippy cup to see if it suited my baby. Then he said I can slowly increase the quantity of cow's milk week by week, ultimately reaching to a reverse proportion: 3/4th cow's milk and 1/4th formula by the 3rd week.
My Final Take
Finally, I believe that no milk can be an alternative to breast milk for your baby. I highly encourage breastfeeding.
As per the 'Infant And Young Child Feeding Practice In India Report', published in the National Family Health Survey, many mothers stop exclusive breastfeeding prematurely, with only 69% infants less than two months of age being breastfed exclusively! By two-three months of age, the number falls to 51% and by four-five months, breastfeeding plummets to 28% only.
I breastfed both my kids for 2 years. Breastfeeding is my baby's birth right and I will happily continue breastfeeding him as advised by my paediatrician. I would suggest that you too keep these pointers in mind and make the right decision for your baby. :)
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