Cow’s milk and children

Also known as: Milk and children

Information

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Although some people have raised concerns about the safety of cow's milk for children, there is no good evidence that it is unsafe for this age group.

Children ages 1 - 2 should only drink whole milk, because they need the fat to maintain brain development. Milk is also a very important source of protein and calcium. After 2 years old, children can drink low-fat milk or even skim milk if they are overweight.

Problems from drinking cow's milk:

  • Symptoms of milk allergy include: belly pain or cramping, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. If the allergy is severe enough, children may have bleeding in their intestines that can cause anemia. About 1 - 3% of children under 1 year old have a milk allergy. Problems with milk allergy are less common in children older than 1 - 3 years.
  • Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not make enough of the enzyme lactase. When this happens, a child is unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. As a result, the child may have bloating and diarrhea.

If these problems are present, your doctor or nurse may recommend soy milk. However, many children who have an allergy to milk also have an allergy to soy.

Many children outgrow these allergies or intolerances by age 1, but children with one food allergy are at greater risk for developing others.

Suggested intake - children 2 - 5 years:

  • Cow's milk
    • Six servings/day
    • 1 serving equals:
      • 1/2 cup milk, yogurt, pudding
      • 3/4 oz. cheese
      • 1 cup cottage cheese

Suggested intake - teens and adults (the equivalent of one of the following is recommended):

  • Milk/Yogurt (1 cup)
    • Three to four servings/day
  • 1 1/2 oz. natural cheese
    • Two to three servings/day
  • 2 oz. processed cheese
    • Four servings/day

References

Lack G. Clinical practice. Food allergy. N Engl J Med. 2008;359:1252-1260.

Information from your family doctor: Lactose intolerance: what you should know. Am Fam Physician. 2006;74:1927-1928.

Stettler N, Bhatia J, Parish A, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 42.

Review date:
February 8, 2011
Reviewed by:
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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