When you enter the supermarket, there are different types of milk available which can be confusing for first-time parents. But how do you know which ones you should choose for your baby or toddler? Is there anything you should avoid? Let’s find out.
As your baby grows, his activities increase manifolds—his length increases by 50% at one year and 75% at two years. In addition, his brain continues to develop rapidly. Research has shown that the brain nearly triples in size in the first two years, reaching approximately 85% of adult weight. Given the importance of proper nutrition in this phase of a child’s life, fulfilling his nutritional requirements is vital.
Around his first birthday, he receives most of his required nutrients from food. However, milk still remains an important source of minerals like Calcium, and Vitamins, particularly B12 for him. And so, choosing the right milk for your baby is still important.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) encourages giving breastmilk till the child turns 2 or longer if required. Breastmilk, in addition to providing essential nutrients can also boost your child’s immunity. The immunoglobulins that the baby receives from breastmilk act as antibodies and protects him from many illnesses. That said, after the age of 1, other types of milk can be introduced as well to fulfil his growing nutritional needs.
However, when it comes to choosing the most appropriate milk for your child, a mother often has many misconceptions. Here are 5 most common myths around milk.
Let us address Myth 1# Growing up formula milk is better than full cream milk
Reality – For children older than 1 year of age who are on a well-balanced diet, growing up milk provides no incremental benefit over full cream milk.
Formulas meant for children beyond the ages of 1 year old (Stage 3 onwards) are termed as growing up milk. They are relatively new to the market, so parents are may often not be well informed about them.
This myth arises from the way these Growing up milks are marketed. They claim to be ‘specially designed to meet the nutritional needs of your toddler’, creating the impression that it may be superior to other types of milk.
The trouble is, their nutritional value is often compared solely with cow’s milk, instead of cow’s milk, plus food which your toddler would in reality be eating. Milk and dairy products are the main source of Calcium in their diets. 300ml of cow’s milk will provide all the Calcium a one- three-year-old needs (350 mg/d). But the recommended daily servings of the popular growing up milks do not1.
For that, your child would have to consume at least 400 ml of growing up milk 1,2. For a toddler, typically the major source of nutrients should be food, not milk. If he fills up on growing up formula, he would have no appetite for solid food left, which would cause deficiencies later.
Seeing this, in October 2013, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an opinion about the benefits of growing up milk or toddler milk.
According to the EFSA, “their ‘scientific experts could identify “no unique role” for young-child formula in the diet of young children’.” And so, growing up milk is not necessary for toddlers who are eating and growing well.
You can use full cream milk instead, that fulfils the nutritional needs of your toddler along with a balanced diet.
Myth #2 Fresh milk is better than UHT milk
Reality – nutritionally speaking, they are more or less, the same.
After your child turns 1, you can introduce full cream milk in his diet. Full cream milk can be pasteurised cow’s milk, UHT (Ultra Heat Treated), or powdered. There are no significant differences between these 3 types of milk nutritionally, except for differences in how they are processed, and hence, their shelf-lives.
The UHT, or ultra-pasteurised milk is heated to a very high temperature for a few seconds, that kills all the pathogen as well as bacterial spores, increasing the shelf life of UHT to 6 to 9 months when it is unopened. In contrast, pasteurised milk is heated to a lower temperature for a longer time, and the shelf life is thus shorter, at about two weeks when it is unopened. After opening, both UHT and pasteurised milk must be kept chilled in the refrigerator. Powdered milk, on the other hand, is a concentrated form of milk after water has been evaporated off.
Of course, your child can still continue to have breast milk. At this stage, do give your child full-fat milk as he still requires an adequate amount of fats to support his growth.
After the child is 2 years old, you can switch to low-fat milk supplemented by a balanced age-appropriate diet, if your child is eating and growing well.
Myth #3 It is better for my baby to take Hypoallergenic formula or specialised formula
Reality – Specialised formulas are not going to provide extra nutrition or benefit to a your child who is growing well. They are prescribed by doctors for children with medical needs.
While most healthy babies are able to take normal infant formula, babies with specific allergies or medical conditions may require specialised formulas. If you think that your baby may need these specialised formulas, it is best to first consult with a medical professional before opting for these alternatives.
If you survey the formula section of a supermarket, you will find many brands and the jargon is confusing. However, read the fine script and you will notice that they fall in these 5 broad categories.
1. Soy-Based Formula. Derived from a plant source, these formulas are particularly useful for children who are allergic to bovine proteins.
2. Lactose-Free Formula. A few babies cannot digest lactose – a sugar commonly found in milk. For them, this formula is a boon.
3. Extensively Hydrolysed Formula (EHF) or Partially hydrolysed formula. Meant for children who are allergic to cow’s milk proteins, these formulas contain proteins that are broken down to easily digestible units.
Extensively Hydrolysed Formula contains proteins that are broken down to a really small unit. This makes it easy for babies with severe inflammatory bowel diseases or cow milk allergies to digest the formula.
Partially Hydrolysed Formula is generally used in babies suffering from colic, though it is not recommended in babies who have milk protein allergies.
4. Hypoallergenic Formula. This is meant for infants with allergies or who have a family history of allergies to milk proteins. Even though Soy-based formulas are not completely hypoallergenic, they are sometimes used in infants who tolerate them well.
5. Anti-regurgitation formula. This is meant for infants who may suffer from GERD and have a tendency to throw up. This formula is a bit thicker than usual and sits better in the stomach.
Most of these specialised formulas are used right from birth. In the case of a rare allergy developing late, they are used in toddlers.
Clearly, these are not premium formulas, but are meant for babies who cannot have the regular formula.
Myth #4 My baby is allergic to formula/cow’s milk
Reality – most babies take a bit of a time to adjust to new milks.
Allergies to cow’s milk protein is not uncommon. However, many babies take a while to adjust to the new milk. The symptoms of allergy are apparent in the bowel movements of the baby. If you see blood or mucous in the stools, it is a sign of allergyCow’s milk allergy can cause a wide range of symptoms, including skin reactions (red itchy rash or swelling of lips/face); digestive problems (eg. stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhoea) or hay fever like symptoms (i. e. runny or blocked nose).
In such cases, meet your doctor. He will rule out if there is any other cause of allergy. Once established, your baby might have to switch to soy-based milk/formulas. Just don’t self-diagnose the allergy and switch on your own. If your baby tolerates it well, regular formula till the age of 1 and cow’s milk later on are good for your child.
Myth #5 There are so many different kinds of milk in the market, and I should just continue to feed my toddler formula milk.
Reality – Unless contraindicated, full-cream milk is better than anything else commercially available for your toddler.a good option for your child toddler once he turns one.
When it comes to the formulas, they are quite tightly regulated in Singapore. So even the most basic ones will have the nutrients that are absolutely necessary for your child. Costlier formula does not necessarily mean a better one.
That said, after the age of 1, you can opt for cow’s milk to supplement a balanced diet. There are a few milks that you should avoid though.
1. Filled milk
Filled milk is fortified with fats from other sources, especially vegetable fats. Many commercially available Evaporated milks and Condensed milks, the ones used in your favourite Kopi, are filled milks.
Even though they are not nutritionally deficient, they are best avoided in children due to the inordinate amount of sugar in them. That said, you can safely use them in baking, but they should not form a part of the recommended daily allowances.
2. Plant-based milks meant for adults
You often see Soy milk, Almond milk, rice milk, and coconut milk in the supermarkets. These are free of lactose, and are favoured by lactose intolerant adults. They are often fortified with Calcium and Vitamins as they are the milk alternatives for vegans.
However, the safety and nutritional efficacy of these non-dairy milks has not been established in children. So, it is best to avoid these till they can make an informed decision about their own dietary choices.
Mums and dads, make an informed choice about the milk you choose. If you are unsure, always ask your doctor about the best thing suited for your child.
To find out more about baby’s nutrition, visit the Health Promotion Board’s website here.