Avoidance of Cow's Milk in Infancy

Valerie Copeland, TVS Nutrition Consultant

Cow's milk is the perfect food for calves, but is one of the most allergenic for human babies(1). Luckily, more vegetarians choose to breastfeed and would not consider giving their "bundle of joy" cow's milk or formula made from cow's milk(2). This is especially important during the first six months of life when the immunological components of breast milk are most beneficial.

Although modified infant formula made of cow's milk can be substituted for breast milk, it is not recommended to introduce unmodified cow's milk (whole, 2%, or skim) in the first year. Cow's milk is too high in protein, phosphorous, and sodium, especially for babies 0-12 months old (infants). This causes the relatively small and immature kidneys to filter at a faster rate, taxing their ability to excrete the excess nutrients(3). Also, the protein in cow's milk may induce a reaction with the small bowel mucosa, causing the stomach to bleed and resulting in iron deficiency anemia(4). Although breast milk is lower in iron than cow's milk, the iron in breast milk is more easily absorbed(3).

In recent years, research shows that cow's milk protein, either as unmodified cow's milk or in cow's milk formula, raises the risk for diabetes in susceptible children(5). The studies may only be preliminary evidence of a cow's milk/diabetes connection, but is another good reason to avoid cow's milk and breastfeed throughout infancy(6).

For further information about breastfeeding, consult your pediatrician or contact your local La Leche League (see sidebar). Local La Leche League contact numbers are 479-2097 (Durham), 782-2849 (Raleigh), 408-0675 (Chapel Hill), and 755-6400 (Triangle-wide).


1. Gruskay, F.L. "Comparisons of Breast, Cow and Soy Feedings in the Prevention of Allergic Diseases". Clinical Jnl of Pediatrics 1986, 21:486.

2. Krummel, D.A., and P.M. Kris-Etherton. Nutrition in Women's Health, 1996, p.241.

3. Guthrie, H. Introductory Nutrition, 1989, p.497.

4. Hark, L. and G. Morrison. Medical Nutrition and Disease, 1996, pp. 107-108.

5. Gerstein, H.C. "Cow's milk exposure and type I diabetes mellitus". Diabetes Care, 1993, 17:13-19.

6. Messina, M. and V. Messina. The Dietitian's Guide to Vegetarian Diets, 1996, p.267.

La Leche League

La Leche League is an international volunteer non-profit organization that gives information and support to breastfeeding women. It was founded 40 years ago by 7 mothers who wanted to help others to breastfeed and reaches over 100,000 mothers world-wide every month.

TVS member Pam Freedman is a Chapel Hill leader, and invites people to contact their local chapter or her (932-6885, pamf105298@aol.com) with any questions or to attend their meetings.

She encourages expectant and new mothers to consider becoming a member for $30/yr, which includes a bimonthly newsletter and discounts on books, including their "Womanly Art of Breastfeeding", written by hundreds of mothers.