Introducing Dairy / Milk

​​Dairy is an umbrella term for all mammal milks and products made from that milk – most commonly from cow’s, but goat’s and sheep’s milk products are becoming more readily available too. If tolerated, dairy can be a wonderful, nutrient-dense inclusion in your baby’s diet. It provides protein, calcium, fat-soluble vitamins, some B vitamins, iodine, and in some cases, probiotics. However, not all forms of dairy are tolerated equally by a baby’s developing digestive system. This is because they have varying amounts of nutrients (most notably lactose and casein).

For this reason, we have compiled some recommendations for how to introduce dairy, starting with those that are typically better tolerated. This slow and steady approach was created with the following principles in mind:

  1. Commence with forms of dairy that are lowest in lactose and casein, but rich in healthy fats and other nutrients (ghee and butter)
  2. Move on to fermented forms of dairy, such as yoghurt and kefir, which include beneficial probiotic bacteria to support the maturing gut
  3. Introduce small amounts of low-sodium, high-protein cheeses 
  4. Finally, introduce cow’s milk and any remaining dairy foods

This approach is only a recommendation and is something we have seen work well in our clinical experience and with our own children. However it is not the only way to introduce dairy, nor is it intended to prevent an allergic reaction if dairy allergy is present. This is not a replacement for the ‘dairy ladder’ that may be prescribed by an allergist or paediatrician, but rather is a gentle introduction designed for children with no prior diagnosis of dairy allergy. If your baby is showing no digestive or other adverse issues with the initial dairy foods offered, you can move forward in a way and at a speed that works for your family.


Ghee and butter

Some of our favourite fats for cooking are butter and ghee because they are stable saturated fats with a yummy flavour! They are both very low in lactose. Ghee is just the butter fat with all milk solids removed, so even some individuals who cannot tolerate dairy may find that they can tolerate ghee. Butter still contains some milk solids, and is a great source of vitamins A, D, E and K.

Please note: The introduction of ghee is typically not enough to determine whether your child has a dairy allergy as it has all of the milk solids removed. It is still a great starting place, but other forms of dairy will need to be introduced to complete the allergen introduction.

Fermented dairy

For many children and adults, fermented dairy foods (yoghurt and kefir) are easier to digest than milk. The process of fermentation will break down some of the lactose and casein present in the milk, as well as providing beneficial probiotic bacteria. However, be mindful of ingredients: you want to minimise the consumption of yoghurt or kefir with added thickeners, flavours, gums, sugar etc. Instead, opt for products where the only ingredients are full-fat milk and the starter culture.


Cheese, a sure family favourite, is a great source of calcium, protein and vitamin B12. Cheese is lower in lactose than milk, but higher in lactose than butter/ghee. When choosing a cheese for your baby, start with those that are low in sodium such as ricotta, labneh, mascarpone, quark, cottage cheese and mozzarella. The same type of cheese across different brands can sometimes contain additional additives, preservatives and flavours. The key ingredients for all cheese will usually be milk, salt, starter culture, and rennet. Aim to buy cheeses in blocks rather than pre-grated or sliced to avoid additives such as anti-caking agents and preservatives, and minimise the consumption of flavoured cheeses.



All dairy milk (cows, goats and sheep) are high in lactose, with cows milk being the highest (marginally). Some people with mild lactose intolerance can tolerate goat or sheep milk better than cows, which may be due to the lower lactose, the slightly different proteins or the different sized fat molecules. Whichever dairy milk you choose to buy, we recommend full fat (preferably organic, pasture raised and unhomogenised if you have access to it). The fat in milk helps to absorb many of the other nutrients present in the milk, such as vitamins A, D and K. It also supports our blood sugars, as fat slows down the absorption of carbohydrates (sugars) into our bloodstream. In Australia, all cow’s milk that is marketed for human consumption must be pasteurised. This process of heat treatment is designed to kill any harmful microbes that may be present in the milk, but in doing so it also destroys many of the beneficial enzymes and nutrients. Raw milk is sold in some countries and is often easier to digest because the enzymes remain intact. If you are lucky enough to have access to it where you live it’s a great choice, however make sure you are confident in the source of the milk as there is a risk of food-borne illness if certain microbes have made their way into the milk.

Can babies have dairy before 12 months?

Yes, babies under 12 months can have dairy foods in their diet, such as the ghee, butter, kefir, yoghurt and cheese asmentioned above. These foods can be offered from 6 months of age (however, keep in mind that your little ones main nutrient requirement at this age is iron, and dairy foods are not high in iron). 

Cow’s milk as a drink should be avoided until after 12 months as cows milk can lead to issues like iron-deficiency anaemia and gastrointestinal upset. Cows milk can be included in cooking, such as baking in a muffin, or through scrambled eggs etc, just avoid offering it as a drink.

Does my child need cow’s milk in their diet?

The short answer is no. Although milk is a great source of calcium, protein, vitamin A and vitamin D, there are plenty of other ways your child can get an adequate intake of these nutrients. At the same time, if milk is tolerated and enjoyed by your child/family, then it’s a great addition.

If you are wondering whether your baby needs to replace breastmilk/formula with milk after 12 months of age, the answer is also no. That’s not to say that you can’t offer your little one cow’s milk or alternative milks, it is up to you and your family what you choose to do here. But we do not want to replace food intake with milk intake after 12 months. You can learn all about weaning and how to support yourself and your little one in this journey in our Weaning Masterclass.


What if I suspect my child is lactose intolerant?

If your little one is having trouble tolerating milk, they may be intolerant/sensitive to the carbohydrate portion of the milk (known as lactose). Lactose sensitivities can be worked through with some specific gut support, which is something that we can assist you with in our clinic. Our naturopaths will help you identify your baby’s trigger food, suggest ways to remove or lower their intake of this food (for a period), but also provide options to meet your baby’s calcium needs and work on strengthening and re-diversifying the gut bacteria so that we can work on reintroducing that food.

Note: If your baby has a cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), this means they are allergic to the proteins in cow’s milk, and you should avoid all forms of dairy and seek guidance from your paediatrician/allergist.

If your little one does need some swaps/replacements for dairy, and some ideas to meet their calcium requirements, check out our blog on swaps here.


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