Alternatives to Cow's Milk

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Need to supplement 6-mo-old's breastfeeding

Oct 1999

I would like to supplement with formula for my 6 month old son, but he has a sensitivity to cows milk protein (ie I've had to cut dairy out of my diet entirely while breastfeeding) so I know he can't have regular formula. I haven't tried soy yet because of the information I've been hearing about it--questions about the way soy is grown as well as its potential to mimic estrogen. Can anyone give me any hard facts about the dangers/benefits of soy formula? I've tried the special predigested formula once (nutrimigil and allimentum) but the stuff is pretty disgusting. Thanks.

In children the most common foods causing allergies are egg, milk, peanut, soy, wheat, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. I would be careful about introducing soy to you child unless you know he is not allergic to it. My son lived on Nutramigen for many years. It did not taste great to me but he loved it.

I wrote earlier about this, from the perspective of a Diet Counselor and long-term student of nutrition. Big proteins like cow and soy can cause gas and colic because they are too difficult for a baby to digest. Whey is a well-tolerated milk protein with smaller casein molecules. Try making your own rice milk by long-cooking Basmati or short brown rice with water (4-6 hours), straining, and adding whey powder (Solgar brand is responsibly extracted) and essential fatty acids. Although rice has been used by humankind only since about 7,000 years ago, cooking it a long time breaks down the phytates which would otherwise inhibit mineral and vitamin absorption and possibly cause irritation to the child's incompletely formed gut. I would also like to point out that there is a breast milk bank in San Jose, which would be my first choice.

For one, mothers milk has estrogen and that is not harmful to your baby. The way they grow soy is only a concern for the one that is genetically engineered and that does not apply here. So go ahead and give your baby soy formula (prosobee is really good). Also, by 6 months both of my babies that had sensitivities to cow's milk, that was gone by the time they were six months old. I then switched to a milk-based one and they were/are still happy with it! Just try it.

April 1999

Alternatives for One-year-old on non-dairy diet

My son has just turned one, and we were planning on starting him on cows milk, but he's now on a diet that eliminates dairy foods. Until now, we've been giving him expressed breast milk when he's away from me, but I won't be able to continue to keep up with him. What are the pluses and minuses of the alternatives to cows milk (infant formula, follow-up formula, soy milk, ...? Others?) Thanks.

My son, now 17 months, has been allergic to both cow's milk and soy milk, so I have given this topic a lot of thought. One book I highly recommend is by Jane Zukin called Dairy-Free Cookbook, Fully Revised 2nd Edition : Over 250 Recipes for People with Lactose Intolerance or Milk Allergy. It might have some suggestions for your particular situation. I have not made many of the recipes, but it has a large section in the front of the book talking about nutrition and how to get nutrients many people derive from cow's milk from other sources. There is a particurly nice chapter for children and babies. Here's what we have done. My son is still breastfed and I have only now stopped expressing milk for him (by 13 months, he was only taking about 4-5 oz of expressed milk during the 9 hrs I was away from him anyway). I have chosen to replace the expressed milk with the enriched rice milk and the occasional calcium fortified OJ. His Dr. also suggested we use liquid calcium supplements on days when I work. He eats solids well and still nurses well when I am home, so I feel there is no need to go to the hypoallergenic formula (which we would have to do because of his allergy to dairy and soy). Another possiblity which we never explored is goat's milk. The happy news is that all these dietary changes are temporary, as he appears to be over his cow's milk allergy (although it is early days yet, so we are going slowly with the cow's milk reintroduction). Good luck!

You can offer your son rice milk as an alternative. I find it tastier than soy milk, and while soy allergies are becoming quite common, people rarely develop allergies to rice. You can buy calcium enriched rice milk at most grocery stores in the Bay Area. Most people drink cow's milk because it is a cheap and easy way to get protein and calcium. However, he can eat other foods that will provide those nutrients (beans, tofu, green leafies, etc). It might be worth it to check out some books or take a class on nutrition.

Is this a no-dairy diet, or a no cow's milk diet? If it's no cow's milk, then I might suggest trying Goat milk and goat milk products. They are well tolerated by many people who can't take cow's milk. Many varieties of goat milk and goat milk products (cheese, dried milk, etc) are available at Whole Foods at Ashby and Telegraph. Soy is of course another option, but some kids are allergic to soy as well (my daughter is). Good luck!

Regarding alternatives to cow's niece has been drinking rice milk since she was one (she is now 2.5 yrs.), and she loves it. It comes in different flavors, and a lot of them are fortified with calcium and vitamins. The nice thing about rice milk is it doesn't have that strong soy flavor that lots of people, including kids don't like.

My son is 14 months old.. I didn't want to give him milk because i have hard time digesting it...Plus I feel milk is for cows... Anyway. I started giving him rice milk. he loves it..... The only problem with rice, soy and other alternative milk products is they don't have enough fat.... Which children need till the age of two. So I make sure that I give him yogurt in the morning and yogurt at night. To supplement what he is missing from milk... The drink I found to have the most fat is almond milk.... I also have recipe to make your own if you're interested.

Many people who are allergic to cow's milk can tolerate goat milk, and apparently in some ways goat milk is closer to human milk and more easily digested than cow's milk. I have seen a couple of recommendations for goat milk for young children; I am looking into this further for my baby boy, who is showing signs of being allergic to cow's milk.

My son had multi. food allergies including dairy. We gave him Nutramigen (a very expensive formula) as a substitute. Have you checked with your doctor/allergist for substitutes? The important thing at this point is to make sure whatever you use as a replacement provides all the nutrients and fats that a one year old needs. We saw a dietitian for assistance regarding foods and vitamins to substitute. To allow enough calcium we gave him Children's Malox (sp?) and when he started to drink juice I gave him the calcuim enrichedGerber juice and calcium enriched orange juice. The large bottles of calcium enriched Gerber juices do not contain as much calcium per serving as the juice boxes. My biggest challenge was provided my child with enough fats and good fats.

Regarding the alternatives to milk request for advice, we had good luck with follow-up soy formula for a year, then we switched to fresh organic soy milk (which you can even buy at Safeway). There are soy cheeses, yogurts, and cream cheeses too, so that I was able to adapt almost all our dinners to be dairy-free. Hang in there, a lot of kids outgrow this. My son is three and he's now able to tolerate some dairy.

Cow's milk intolerance in one year old

June 2000

My 14 month old daughter is on a dairy-free diet. She drinks breast milk and enriched soy milk, eats soy cheese and tofu and seems to be doing fine. She is healthy and growing tall although she is a bit on the thin side(but so are both of her parents). I would like to learn more about dairy intolerance in children so I can make informed decisions about what foods to introduce into her diet and when to introduce them. I am also concerned about weening her. I would like to breast feed her only first thing in the morning and at night, then ween her completely by her second birthday, but I also want to know that she will get the nutrients and fat she needs from other sources in her diet. Because she vomits 2-3 hours after she consumes yogurt or cheese, I suspect the problem is with milk protein rather than lactose. Has anyone had a similar experience with their child? Can you suggest books, Web sites, or other resources where I can learn more about dairy intolerance? Thanks. Lauri

HI, Being concerned that my boys would have the same dairy intolerance that I do, I never started them on cows milk. As they were weaned from breast milk I introduced Goat's milk (My older son had a violent vomiting reaction to soy formula so I never tried it again). Many dairy intolerant children can tolerate Goat's milk. The chemical make up is very different from cow's milk. It's not as mucus forming. I've read that Goat's milk is closest in vitamins and enzymes to human milk, much more so than cows milk. Less calcium though. The brand I use is Meyenberg. It can be bought at most grocery stores (though the skim goats milk I can only find at El Certito and Berkeley Natural Grocery. Some other brands of goats milk are very strong tasting. I find Meyenberg to be sweeter than cows milk (though I haven't had cows milk in so long I really don't remember). and it doesn't get that goaty taste after two days that some other brands do. My oldest son is now 9 and has no problem with dairy, but my younger son, 5 has a definate allergy. We use goat milk, goat cheese, sheep feta. Often with a dairy allergy they can tolerate milk that is cooked into something such as pastries or cookies. Also butter doesn't contain milk solids so often they can tolerate butter. Feel free to write me if you want to talk more. June

Eliminating cow's milk for health reasons

Aug 2000

I am very interested in hearing from any parents who have chosen not to include cow's milk in their child's diet for health reasons (aside from allergies to dairy products). From everything I have read and everyone I have talked to, it really makes sense not to consume any dairy products - while this can be a pretty difficult thing to do and maybe not totally necessary, it has been very easy to eliminate cow's milk (major source of dairy products in our house) from my entire family's diet, including my 2 1/2 year old daughter who loves soy and rice milk. I am hoping to hear from others who might be further down the road than I am on this issue. I guess I am most concerned about whether or not my child gets enough calcium (though I am aware of the many other food sources for calcium and am also using fortified organic soy and rice), and also, whether or not too much soy milk can cause problem (isoflavones, etc) - this is probably my biggest concern. I am currently blending or alternating rice with soy each day. It has been an amazingly easy transition, and I even feel noticeably better myself. I would love to hear what other parents have experienced (particularly those who eat a vegan or almost vegan diet). The previous comments from parents on the web page are really only specific to milk allergy issues, and mostly short-term consumption of soy milk and other alternatives. Michael

I'm interested in reading the responses you receive since we are in a similar situation. Our son is 2.25 and has had very little dairy. His dad does eat dairy, however, so our son has some (organic). He drinks a lot of soy milk and a fair amount of tofu and other soy products, but like with most foods some weeks we eat more than others and so it seems balanced over the long haul. So far he is very healthy. I don't have much to add, but wanted to let you know that during my pregnancy I did not drink cow's milk or cheese (did eat organic yogurt). I ate tons of calcuim rich foods and late in the pregnancy took liquid calcium which got rid of my leg cramps at night. I had a healthy pregnancy and my son was healthy at birth. That we (I and baby) were healthy without cow's milk and cheese at such a critical time, indicates to me that these products aren't necessary. I also think about other cultures where this is common and people tend to be no less healthy and usually healthier. _May all Be Fed by Robbins_ was a book that was helpful to me. Susan

Hi, though we eliminated dairy due to possible allergies, my oldest son, now 9 1/2 and youngest, 5 have never had cows milk or much cheese as a regular part of their diet. My husband and I have milk sensitivities and have used Goat's milk from the start. Goats milk is not as high in Calcium as cows milk, but it appears to be high enough for what humans need. Goats milk is less rich than cows milk and has a different set of enzymes, vitamins and chemical make up. It is closest in that way to human breast milk. Meyenberg brand is what I use because it doesn't get a goaty flavor after a few days. It's higher in fat but is also available in a skim form. We use soy milk too but mostly goat. Goat cheese tends to get that goaty flavor after a few days but it's great fresh. Also sheep feta cheese is not reactive as cow feta. It will say sheep feta if it is indeed sheeps. If it doens't say, then it's cow. I've tried soy and rice cheeses....truthfully I'd rather just skip the cheese than try to substitute with those. My kids won't go for it. There are many desserts that are non-dairy....rice dream, tofutti and similar soy Ice cream subs. You can even get soy whipped cream. They have it in the frozen food section at Berkeley Bowl and El Cerrito Natural Grocery. It's like Dream whip. I've tried most of the non dairy food substitutes. I'd be happy to answer any questions or discuss this further. Good luck, and have fun. June

Vegetarian family: cow's milk for 1-yr-old?

Oct 2001

My husband and I are vegetarians (not vegan, but close) and are trying to figure something out. All the books that I have read and doctors I have talked to have suggested that at one year children begin drinking cow's milk once weaned. I do not drink cow's milk and really would prefer my son not to drink cow's milk, but I am not sure about alternatives like soy milk in terms of nutrition and digestibility. Also, it has been suggested that if he is weaned before one year, he should start with a dairy-based formula instead of soy-based. I feel completely lost on these subjects and yet realize that time is passing quickly and I will need to make some decisions soon. If anyone has any opinions, suggestions, or resources that I could look into, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you, Heather

My daughter, now 19 months old, has been drinking Soy milk since she was one. We tried cows milk but it gave her diarrhea and she got frequent ear infections, also from other things I have read cows milk is not important to drink it is important to get calcium and fat in their diet. We give her Vitasoy fortified soy milk. It has calcium and fat and lots of other minerals. We buy it at Costco. They sell it by the case so we buy 2 cases at a time. It is a lot cheaper than a regular store. I think it is about 15 dollars for the case of 12. she loves the milk. If you do use soy milk make sure you get the fortified or enriched kind.

Also to touch on weaning before a year, depending on your son's age if he weans early, it is not always necessary to give formula. I have several friends who started the weaning process at about 10 months and they were told by there pediatricians it was okay to go to milk and skip over formula. check with your pediatrician it may depend on other things than age. If you do have to go to formula use soy there is no need to feel pressured into cow milk based formula. melinda

I had planned to raise our now 15-month-old son as a vegetarian, but because of some reactions (rashes, nothing too serious) to various dairy products, he's pretty much vegan for now. I say for now because a lot of allergic reactions are simply because foods are introduced too early; usually they are outgrown. It seems to me that a lot of the warnings out there are based on our parents' generation, when babies were started on cereal as early as six weeks! Anyway, here's my own experience: we started giving our son soy milk around 11 months. We use Edensoy Extra, because it is organic and offers B12, which is of special importance to vegans. I should note that he is still breastfeeding. We give him the soy milk in a bottle when Daddy puts him to bed (I could never pump for just here-and-there occasions) or as an alternative to water in a sippy cup when I feel like he needs extra calories/protein. He was late in eating solids as a significant form of nutrition because he frankly didn't seem very interested before 10 months, so we may have avoided some allergy issues. I believe most experts say that by age one most babies should be able to eat most foods. Have you looked at Ruth Yarrow's Super Baby Foods? She's definitely of the school that if you don't start babies on solids by six months, they won't eat (have you met any adults who won't eat?!), but she also is pro-vegetarian and offers comprehensive, if not somewhat alarmist, information on allergies. Back to our son, now that he is showing more interest in solids, soy seems like a huge part of his diet (tofu, soy yogurt, etc.). Thankfully, he's never shown a reaction to it. I'm certainly a proponent of extended breastfeeding, so my suggestion would be to continue that as long as it seems right for both you and child; just because your child is beginning to get nutrition from solids doesn't mean he or she can't still get nutrition and comfort from your milk. When you feel like your child is starting to show readiness, start adding non-dairy milks and soy and other foods and watch for reactions. You can follow the four- or seven-day wait rule, which means only introduce one new food within that time frame, so you can isolate the causes of reactions. For more on cow's milk, there was an article (Should Kids Drink Cow's Milk?) in Mothering magazine in July/August 1998. I don't know if the online archives go back that far, but you can probably order a back issue of the magazine. (Or e-mail me and I'll send you a photo copy of the article.) BTW, the article's position is that kid's shouldn't drink cow's milk, in part because adding milk to an otherwise well-balanced diet simply overloads the meal. Of course, allergies and other health effects are discussed. hickman

To Heather: Our oldest daughter we found to be very allergic to dairy milk. It took me weeks to figure it out, but she was so sensitive that I couldn't even eat bread that contained any milk or have a dab of milk in my decaf. coffee without her getting incredible, horrid stomach cramping after I nursed her. When it was time to switch her to cow's milk as every MD recommends, we tried Lact-aid milk (full fat, just no lactose). Still a no-go. We finally figured out that it was not the lactose that she couldn't tolerate, but the casein in dairy products. So I started her on soy, but I found that I had to be careful what type of soy milk I bought because some have very little calcium in it. We buy the Westsoy Plus Lite (now that she is 4, she needs less fat), but the regular Westsoy had much less calcium and she was not getting her RDA for calcium with it. She has done beautifully. I've tried in the past to switch her to dairy, but why? I'd rather know that she was getting an organic product that, to me, is safer than dairy! So go for it, and good luck! Trish

My advice: Keep breastfeeding!

There is a very good organic, rice-based toddler formula by Baby's Own which is available on-line and in all of the healthfood grocery stores (Wild Oats, Whole Foods, Berkeley Natural, etc...) Also, have you considered enriched rice or almond milk? And, there is always goat's milk. These have all worked well with my son who is now 2 years old. Belinda in El Cerrito

This is only a partial answer to your question, but...We recently switched our 15-month-old daughter to soy milk rather than cow's milk in hopes that it may cut down on her rate of ear infections. When I proposed this switch to our pediatrician, she agreed but counseled that we should buy only soy milk that is fortified with calcium and vit. D. Soy does not have these nutrients in the same quantities that cow's milk does. One difficulty I've had is finding organic, whole fat, calcium fortified soy milk without added sugar--almost all of the various brands have some kind of sweetener, such as cane juice, added to make the soy milk more palatable. My daughter has taken to it without any complaints. Darcy

Both my daughters had some negative reactions to dairy, so they both had soy formula in addition to breast milk in the first year, and then soy milk, one with full fat and extra calcium (called plus I think), during the next year or so. This was in addition to a diet with a full range of foods, so it wasn't the only nutrition they were getting, but it seemed fine. My older daughter also liked goat's milk products, like cheese and yogurt, but I don't think these are necessary. Check out some of the books available in natural food stores too, there are quite a few on vegetarian/vegan diets for children, though I don't know any titles offhand. Lucia

I hope that the person seeking advice on this matter is still reading the advice line. I don't know what an alternative to cow milk is, but I recently started giving my 10-month-old one bottle of soy formula every day so that when I fully wean her in a couple of months, she starts to drink soy milk instead of cow's milk. A friend then told me that children are not supposed to drink/eat any soy products because soy products contain certain agents (probably not the right word for it) that are very similar to female hormones. She said that giving kids soy products is like giving them hormones. I was very skeptical, and talked to a biochemist, who to my utter surprise, confirmed what this friend had told me. He indicated that until the age of 11, it is not a good idea to give soy products to kids/infants. Between the ages of 11 and 80, soy products have been found to possibly prevent many forms of disease such as breast cancer, but before the age of 11, they have a hormone-like effect on children. Anyway, you should definitely double-check this, but I am no longer giving my daughter soy formula. I hope this helps. Firouzeh

my 2 1/2 year old dauighter still nurses, but when she was around one or one and a few months we started giving her fortified vanilla flavored rice milk (rice dream), vanilla flavored, when she went to her sitter's for four or five hours. we thought the vanilla flavor (not sweetened with sugar, just flavored!) would make it seem like breast milk... she liked it sometimes, but not always. for the past six or 8 months she's been drinking fortified vanilla soy milk--westwood--and although i don't like the taste, she does (we had to experiemnt with a few brands before we settled on it). anyway, i think that cow's milk is highly, highly overrated/overadvertised--compare the labels on it and on soymilk in your local health food store. you might feel like you need to give your child more fatty foods if you're not using cow's milk, but that's possible (and if they're nursing, then they're probably getting a lot of fats from you, too). Jessica

One of the reasons that cows milk shouldn't be used before the age of one is because of the possibility that you can cause a life-long dairy allergy. This is because the protein of cows milk is too large for baby's digestive systems to be able to deal with properly. The same is true of soy, though it's not as troublesome. I personally like to wait to introduce soy until 12 months and cow until 24 months. Neither of my sons had any cows milk or dairy until they were well over 2 years old (both vegetarian too) and they've been healthy and strong with no growth problems or anything. If you are unable to continue breastfeeding full-time before your baby turns one, you might want to consider supplementing with goats milk, which is much easier for baby's to digest than cow or soy. Like both cow milk and soy milk, you can't give plain goats milk to an infant as their sole source of liquid nutrition, since it doesn't have all of the necessary vitamins in it. You can add some things to goats milk to make it more complete, if necessary. Once they're eating more food, however, it's an excellent cow-milk alternative with much less risk of allergy. Rice milk is okay after a year, but it doesn't have much protein. Tara

While this may not exactly fit your requirements, this was developed by one of my teachers. Essential fatty acids from flax are fine, but the cod liver oil provides vitamins A and D, the latter critical in the allocation and utilization of calcium. Whey powder is highly digestible, especially a low-heat process version like Solgar.
Ed's baby formula (adjust with age- this is for around a 1 year old) Make a congee with 1 cup short brown or basmati rice and 6 cups pure water. A congee is cooked over low temperature for 6-8 hours (crockpots are great for this) until like a thin gruel. Strain. Store in refrigerator. To each 8-10 oz amount, add: 1/2 tsp cod liver oil (can use emulsified but try straight, unflavored first) 1/2 tsp flax oil (high lignan is probably OK) 1 tsp whey powder (goat is good)- if child is growing, increase for protein 1/3 tsp green powder (a gluten-free version is best) 1/4 tsp buffered vitamin C complex powder 1/4 tsp acidophilus/bifidus powder Heat in water bath to lukewarm temperature and feed. This offers a complete macronutrient complement and most significant micronutrients (vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, P for sure).