When is cow milk safe for the baby?

By Vision Reporter

If you insist on feeding your newly born baby on cow milk, then do not be surprised when they develop allergy, malnutrition or obesity later in life.

By Ben Okiror

If you insist on feeding your newly born baby on cow milk, then do not be surprised when they develop allergy, malnutrition or obesity later in life.

All nursing mothers must breastfeed their newly born babies exclusively for six months before introducing other foods. Where it is not possible or practical, then at least, formula milk should be the best option because it tries to duplicate breast milk.

Nutritionists do not recommend unmodified cows’ milk before 9-12 months of age because the iron content in that milk is low and not readily absorbed. So the baby ends up lacking iron. Even reduced-fat milks should not be given before the age of one year because it can cause problems to the kidney. Although the problem may not be visible in infancy, it usually manifests as high blood pressure or obesity.

Since cows’ milk is meant for the calf, the concentration and proportion of nutrients are not suitable for the baby, according to Jolly Gonahasa, a nutritionist and director Jovay School of cookery in Wandegeya. She advises mothers to breastfeed the baby exclusively for at least three months and if the mother dies, then the “wet nurse” (another breast feeding woman) should be asked to help.

According to Dr. Robert Iriso, a paediatrician at Mulago hospital, infants who feed on cows’ milk early suffer various complications and other diseases due to bacterial contamination.

“Babies fed on cows’ milk are more likely to develop allergy which may manifest as an itchy skin rash or asthma later in life,” Iriso said.

“They are 3-5 times more likely to suffer or die from diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections or malnutrition. In addition, the process of preparation and handling of cows’ or formula milk also poses a risk of contaminating it with germs that can cause disease.”

Cow milk, he said, contains more proteins (milk curds or casein) which are not easily digested by the baby. It also contains a lot of minerals like sodium which can cause complications, especially when a baby has diarrhoea. In conditions where a mother is unable to breastfeed, he recommends modification of cow’s milk by diluting with boiled clean water at a ratio of 2:1.

Dr. Amos Odiit, another paediatrician, says that despite cow milk being the most widely available substitute to breast milk; it’s usually not in correct proportion, not meeting all the nutrition needs of an infant. The alternative is modified milk, like yoghurt and soya milk, which can match cows’ milk.

The danger with cow’s milk, he noted, is that some local dealers dilute milk before and when you further dilute it, the nutrient and energy levels drop, leading to malnutrition.

Odiit advises mothers to buy pasteurised milk because it is safer and has standard concentration as compared to unprocessed milk.

Gonahasa advises that regular cow milk be diluted until the baby is one year old.

Milk formulas, she says, are good and can be age specific but are too expensive for an ordinary mother. Because it is very nice and delicious, sometimes babies end up rejecting breast milk in preference for it.

Richard Kajura, a nutrition consultant with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), says that cow milk has higher levels of calcium than breast milk and some other protein component of which, when introduced before one year, can lead to the baby’s body reacting to it. This, he says, is the reason why a baby struggles with the mother when introduced to it.

On top of that, there is a component called lactose, which a baby’s body is not yet developed enough to digest if introduced before the age of one year.

After six months, Kajura says, formula milk is recommended and for cow milk, dilution should be initially at the ratio of 1:2 in porridge and continued at the ratio of 1:1 with water. It should be introduced progressively, while observing reactions like rejection and diarrhoea, caused by intolerance to lactose. He says that because the risk of contamination is high, milk from the farm should be boiled for 15 minutes, that from the coolers for 10 minutes and pasteurised one for 5 minutes.

When is cow milk safe for the baby?