What kind of milk is best for our child?

Q: My husband and I have started the discussion of what type of milk our son (10 months) will drink when we switch from formula to milk. My husband is pretty set on not giving him dairy milk, but I’m not convinced soy, almond and other sources of “milk” are such a good idea. Any suggestions?

A: Milk types can be divided into two categories — plant-based and animal-based.

If your child is vegetarian or vegan, or if there is a strong family history of cow’s milk intolerance or allergy, there are plant-based products available for parents to choose from, including soy milks, nut milks (like almond or coconut), potato milk and grain milks (such as rice or hemp). 

All of these plant-based milks may be fortified with vitamin D and calcium, but lack protein and fats, which are needed for growing brains.

Often, plant-based milk has a significant amount of added sugar for flavor, as compared to cow’s milk, which has lactose, a natural sugar.

Additionally, soy has another problem of containing phytoestrogens, which can mimic estrogen and potentially stimulate pubertal changes.

Unfortunately, unpasteurized, raw cow’s milk is also available. Raw milk isn’t safe to drink as it may contain bacteria or toxins that can cause significant infection or illness. 

Other than cow’s milk, the other animal-based milk available is goat’s milk. Goat’s milk has no vitamin B12 or folate, so a multivitamin is also required to prevent children from developing anemia. 

Of all the various milks available, the best option for most children is cow’s milk.

Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the senior medical director of primary care at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Send your questions to gchawla@mnparent.com.