With plant-based types of milk being everywhere these days, more people than ever are switching out cow’s milk for alternatives. Plant-based milk like soy, oat, and almond milk can be a great choice for those with a dairy allergy or intolerance, and can often be less impactful on the environment.
So by this logic, for new parents, it feels sensible to think about using plant-based milk such as almond milk to feed a baby in its first months after breast milk or formula. However, while this makes sense on paper, the vital nutrients that a baby needs in its early development, such as protein, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals, can be lacking in almond milk, meaning that the little one could not be getting vital nourishment.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the specific reasons why opting for almond milk in a baby’s diet could be the wrong choice.
What Is Almond Milk?
With the clue very much in the name, almond milk is milk made from almonds that are soaked, ground, and strained, yielding a milky liquid.
As almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, the typical 4 oz. serving of almond milk contains around 1.5 grams of fat, as well as half a gram of protein, and around 20 calories. Almond milk also contains several key vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D - but all of these, unless the brand is fortified, are in fairly low quantities compared to cow’s milk.
Why Shouldn’t I Give My Baby Almond Milk?
If a baby is less than 1 year old, it should be drinking solely breast milk or formula. Although giving a baby almond milk seems like it could be a great choice, using it as an alternative to breast milk or formula can mean that the infant isn’t getting the essential nutrients it needs to grow in its first year.
Breast milk in particular contains the perfect blend of protein, fat, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals needed for a baby’s essential first few months and its early development - and formulas are specially made to emulate this.
Breast milk has also long been known to provide babies with a robust and long-lasting immune system, better resistance to allergies, and other health benefits that will last infants a lifetime. Attempting to swap out for almond milk, therefore, will leave the baby without access to these, meaning that they could be missing out on some vital positives in their development.
Feeding babies almond milk could also trigger an allergic reaction if the infant has a nut allergy - which can, of course, be quite serious. Always check with a pediatrician before introducing almond milk into any diet.
If My Baby Is Over 1 Year Old, Is Almond Milk Okay To Drink?
While almond milk is okay for babies to drink after the first year, make sure it exists as part of a healthy diet, and consider giving only small amounts to young ones.
Although common knowledge is that it’s possible to switch a baby from breast milk to other types of milk after its first birthday, almond milk may not be the best choice for this. Instead of feeding a baby almond milk, regular old cow’s milk is by far the best choice here. The reason for this is simple: cow’s milk has a much more comprehensive nutritional profile than almond milk, meaning that it’ll benefit a baby’s growth and development far more.
Not only is a 4 oz. serving of whole cow’s milk almost four times higher than in almond milk, it also contains almost triple the amount of calcium: 138 milligrams in cow’s milk, as opposed to 50 milligrams in almond milk. It also contains much higher levels of potassium. Both of these are vital for early growth.
While almond milk can come fortified with calcium as well as other vitamins and minerals, the body generally finds these harder to process than if they come as part of cow’s milk. As such, they may not be as readily available or beneficial to the baby’s health.
Also, after a baby’s first year, milk should be acting as a supplement or as part of a baby’s diet as opposed to its sole source of nutrition. So, it’s important to try to begin to vary the diet at this point, to make sure the little one’s getting an increasingly wide range of food sources.
Can I Feed My Baby Other Non-Dairy Milk?
By this point, the thought may have occurred: okay, but if almond milk’s off the menu, can a baby drink any other milk alternatives?
Babies under 1-year-old should stick to breast milk or formula, once a baby gets a little older incorporating other kinds of milk can have health benefits - as long as it’s not taking the place of other sources that give the infant the nutrients it needs.
If feeding an infant non-dairy milk once it’s passed its first birthday, it’s important to make sure that any milk is unsweetened and low in sugar. Certain alternative milk brands sweeten their blend, and this can lead to excess sugar intake for babies and infants.
Other milk alternatives can also be a source of nutrients that may have distinct health benefits for infants over one-year-old or toddlers. Coconut milk, for example, has high levels of vitamin C, healthy fats, and antimicrobial properties to help boost health. It’s important to remember, though, that alternative milk will generally not provide the same nutrition as cow’s milk, and certainly not breast milk or formula. With coconut milk, in particular, using it as a replacement for breast milk or formula could even cause iron deficiencies or severe dehydration.
What If My Baby Has A Dairy Allergy?
If a baby’s suffering from a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, the first port of call is to speak to a pediatrician. They can help advise the best options.
It may be that, if the baby’s still breastfeeding, the mother cuts out dairy from her diet - or, if a baby’s using a formula, it’s helpful to switch to a hypoallergenic version, to avoid any triggers.
If a baby’s over one year old, feeding it with fortified, unsweetened soy milk in accompaniment with other foods can help provide nutrition that is close to cow’s milk, including its protein content. It’s useful to remember, though, that the body has more trouble accessing nutrients that are added to milk to fortify it, so fortified soy milk may not be the best source.
Using almond milk as an alternative to cow’s milk after the first year of an infant’s life is also certainly an option - but if so, make sure that the almond milk used is an unsweetened and fortified version, and consumed as part of a healthy and varied diet.
It’s important to note that only 2-3% of babies suffer from lactose intolerance, and quite a few grow out of it - so keep an eye on whether cow’s milk remains a problem and make sure to consult with a pediatrician regularly.
Babies and infants under one-year-old should be fed breast milk or formula exclusively. Any other kinds of milk - including almond milk - will not give the baby the levels of nutrition - from protein, fat, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals - that it needs in its first months.
When incorporated as part of a varied diet after a baby’s first birthday, almond milk is safe to drink, provided it’s an unsweetened, fortified version and there’s no allergy present. If possible, though, cow’s milk is the best choice for a 1-year-old, in terms of the nutrition it brings.