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Choosing The Best Milk For Your Baby: Things You Need To Know

Every mother wants to provide their baby with the best of everything. But choosing the best among many alternatives can be a serious dilemma, especially when it comes to choosing food options for the little one - the dilemma is often about whether cow’s milk is okay for your baby, and how its nutritional values are different from that of breast milk. Here are the things you should know before choosing the best milk to feed your precious one with.

Baby’s Needs:

In case of human babies, development of the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, takes place prior to muscle growth. This is why they require more fats (as brain is mostly composed of fat cells) and carbohydrates (to provide energy) but lesser amounts of protein during the first year. Breast milk has optimum protein content, and also the right quality of protein, whey protein - which is gentle on the baby’s immature digestive system.

Although cow’s milk has a higher content, it is difficult for your baby to digest. This is because calves need to be able to stand and roam around within the first few hours after birth. Therefore, the strengthening of muscles and development of motor skills are the most important requirements in newborn calves.

When Can You Introduce Your Baby To Cow’s Milk?

The digestive system of babies is not as strong and functioning as that of adults, especially in the first few months. While breast milk is easier for babies to digest, the presence of complex proteins in cow’s milk makes it unsuitable for infants.

Therefore, until your baby is at least 12-months old, stick to breast milk and slowly introduce cow’s milk in little amounts after his first year. As your baby’s digestive system develops further, he will be able to digest cow’s milk properly. 

Nutritional compositions:

The amounts and types of different nutritional elements in milk vary according to the animal and the younger one’s needs. Milk is mainly composed of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats along with smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, magnesium etc.


- Cow’s milk contains a high amount of casein proteins (whey to casein protein ratio - 18:82), which are hard-to-digest complex molecules, making cow’s milk unsuitable for the baby’s diet.

- Breast milk, on the other hand, contains casein proteins in a casein to whey ratio of 40:60. Lesser casein makes breast milk ideal according to your baby’s digestive ability.


- Cow’s milk contains saturated fats in higher content whereas breast milk contains a greater content of linoleic acid, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats which are required for the development of brain, nerves and spinal cord in babies.

- The amount of linoleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids in breast milk is also higher than cow’s milk. According to NCBI, linoleic acid in human milk provides 4% of calories where the recommended level is 3%, but cow’s milk provides only 1.8%.


Carbohydrates provide the energy required for growth and development of the central nervous system. Higher content of carbohydrates in breast milk makes it ideal for your baby during his initial months.


According to NCBI, the milk proteins in cow’s milk act as inhibitors of iron absorption due to which only 10% of the iron in cow’s milk gets absorbed by the baby’s body. On the other hand, easily digestible nature of the iron in breast milk makes 50% of it to get absorbed.

While choosing the best milk for your baby, you must also consider the antibodies that help your baby’s immunity get stronger while providing protection against harmful diseases. Babies generally get these antibodies transferred to their body through mother’s milk along with other nutrients. Until your baby is of at least 1 year of age, the best milk for them would be breast milk, as it is tummy friendly and contains the nutrients that they need to support their growth and healthy development.

Disclaimer: All the information provided in the blog is for reference purposes only. Please do not consider this as a medical advice. Start Healthy Stay Healthy programme is for educational purposes only, in partnership with doctors. Always consult a doctor if you have any questions related to your own health or the health of your child.

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