All about milk – breast milk, cows’ milk and formula

Whatever the age of your little one and however you’re feeding him, here’s all the info you need about your baby’s milk

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Breastfeeding – how can I tell if he’s getting enough?

Handily, breast milk is always on tap at the right temperature. But breasts don’t come marked in fluid ounces, so it can be hard to tell if your baby’s getting enough. Luckily, there are clear signs to show how well your baby’s feeding:

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  • Listen for sucking. If your baby’s making gulping and swallowing noises, then he’s almost certainly feeding well. That said, a lot of babies are silent feeders.
  • When you take your baby off the breast he should be quite content and not interested in sucking any more. If he’s unsettled, or he’s trying to suck on his fingers, then he may still be hungry.
  • In the first few weeks your baby should fill his nappy about five times a day with seedy, mustard-coloured poo. From about six weeks on, babies fill their nappies a lotless frequently so don’t panic if the rate then drops to one a day, sometimes less.
  • Your baby’s nappy should often be wet, as he can be expected to wee around eight times a day. Modern nappies are so good at drawing dampness away from the skin that it can be hard to tell when they’re wet by touch alone. Instead, hold a used nappy in one hand and a fresh one in the other – the wet nappy should be a lot heavier.
  • If you’re not sure if the nappy’s wet enough, a final clue is the colour of the wee. If your baby’s getting enough liquid, his wee should be colourless. If not and he’s a bit dehydrated, his wee will be a yellow or pinky-red colour.
  • Finally, despite drinking more, your baby should feed less frequently and for shorter periods as he gets older. If your baby begins waking a lot in the night when he didn’t before or wants the breast more often than normal, then he might not be getting all the milk he needs.

If you’re still concerned, get him weighed by your local health visitor. Above all, if your baby is generally happy and active, then you can be quite sure he’s getting enough to satisfy him and help him grow.

Formula milk – how to balance formula and solids

Introducing your baby to everyday food is an exciting time. But even when he’s starting on solids at around 6 months, milk remains the most important part of your baby’s diet. Milk fills little tummies up quickly, though, so it’s a juggling act getting the right amounts of both.

Start each feed with milk as usual. Build up the amount and frequency of solids until he’s eating three meals a day, as well as having his milk. As your baby eats more solids, he’ll naturally drink less milk. When he moves beyond vegetable purées (about 6-7 months), switch the order; have solids first, with milk to follow.

In time he’ll drop one milk feed, but he’ll still need at least 600ml (1pt) so now’s the time to find ways of incorporating it into his food. Offering milk and cereal or cheese sauce with dinner is a good way of ‘using up’ your baby’s milk allowance.

In many cases this can also be a way of gently introducing cows’ milk. By 12 months he can take most of his milk either in the evening or sipping from a cup or beaker on and off during the day, as well as from the milk products in his meals.

Even if your baby takes to his solid food like a duck to water, the habit of a comforting bottle can be hard to break. If you’re finding it hard to convince him to increase his appetite for the hard stuff, you might have to cut down on the amount he drinks. In particular, watch how much he drinks in the day, saving the big gulp for first thing in the morning or as a night-time cuppa.

4 months

  • Breakfast: 180-240mls (6-8 fl oz)
  • Lunch: 180-240mls (6-8 fl oz)
  • Afternoon: 150-210mls (5-7 fl oz)
  • Evening: 210-240mls (7-8 fl oz)

6 months

  • Breakfast: 210-240mls (7-8 fl oz)
  • Lunch: 150-210mls (5-7 fl oz)
  • Afternoon: 150-180mls (5-6 fl oz)
  • Evening: 210-240mls (7-8 fl oz)

9 months

  • Breakfast: 180mls (6 fl oz)
  • Lunch: Some dairy foods
  • Afternoon: nothing
  • Evening: 180-240mls (6-8 fl oz)

12 months

  • Breakfast: Cup of milk + cereal and milk or yoghurt
  • Lunch: Some dairy foods
  • Afternoon: Cup of milk
  • Evening: 180mls (6 fl oz)

Cows’ milk – how much, how soon?

Cows’ milk is a natural superfood with great nutritional benefits all through life. However, when it comes to babies, milk still needs to be introduced with some caution. It’s generally agreed that cows’ milk shouldn’t be given as a drink until your baby is at least a year old.

What some mums don’t realise is that if their baby has safely been introduced to dairy produce through weaning, it should be safe to cook with ordinary cows’ milk rather than expressed breastmilk or formula.

6-9 months: In dairy products such as yogurt or cheese. Mixed in food such as cheese sauces, puddings etc. But if there’s a family history of allergies, some doctors recommend holding off until a year old.

1 year old: As a drink, can switch from breast or formula to full-fat cows’ milk, aiming for between 300- 600mls (½-1pt) a day. Under 2s must have full-fat milk because it contains the calories and vitamins that toddlers need.

2 years old: Semi-skimmed milk is allowed from this age, but only if your child’s eating well and has a varied diet. With both full-fat and semi-skimmed milk, 300ml will provide the 350mg of calcium toddlers need each day.

5 and under: Skimmed milk isn’t suitable for the under-5s. It doesn’t have enough calories or vitamins A and D. Other than this he can drink as much milk as he likes. The Dairy Council recommends three portions of dairy produce a day for children and adults. One portion is 200ml (6½ fl oz) milk, 150g (5oz) yogurt or 30g (1¼oz) cheese.

Got a toddler who hates milk?

Don’t panic! He can easily make up his energy and nutrient requirements from dairy food such as cheese, yogurt and cereals. But for some children, an intolerance to lactose, the sugar in cows’ milk, means that even dairy foods are excluded. It can be difficult avoiding ready-made products that contain cows’ milk but labelling has improved greatly. A number of milk substitutes exist, but speak to your doctor or health visitor before offering any of these to your little one.

In the meantime, these non-dairy foods combined provide similar benefits to milk:

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  • Eggs
  • Sardines
  • Lentils
  • Raisins
  • Oranges
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Salmon
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Baked beans

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