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Cow’s Milk and Cow’s Milk Alternatives

Cow’s Milk and Cow’s Milk Alternatives

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Recently more families are interested in offering their children milk from sources other than cows. This raises a lot of questions about which milk alternative is best and if a child even needs to drink milk at all.

Your child does not HAVE to drink milk or have dairy in their diet.  They do NEED vitamin D, calcium, protein and fat.  Cow’s milk provides a great source of all of these. 

For the first 12 months, children’s nutrition should come mainly from breastmilk or formula.  They can eat dairy products (cheese, yogurt) before age one.  Pay close attention to the amount of added sugar in yogurt.  When children turn one year, we recommend introducing/ transitioning from formula to cow’s milk, specifically whole milk.  Breastfeeding can continue for as long as both mom and child desire.  Raw milk or unpasteurized milk is not safe to feed your child and may carry dangerous bacteria.

Note – if your child has a milk protein allergy – please discuss milk introduction with your pediatrician.



There are many alternatives to cow’s milk available now- these include soy milk, tree nut milk (almond, cashew), rice milk, hemp milk, and even coconut milk.  These are all made from extracts from plant sources. 

milk alternatives drink nutrition

The majority are lower in protein, calcium, vitamin D, and overall calories compared to cow’s milk.  If you choose to give your child a milk alternative, your child may be missing out on these key nutrients.  The nutritional content of cow’s milk is regulated in the United States but is not often regulated for many non-cow’s milk options leading to variation in nutritional content.



The big picture – Most alternative milks do not provide the same nutrients as cow’s milk. It doesn’t make them unsafe choices, but you must make sure they are getting these nutrients from other sources or through fortification of the milk.

Sources and further information: