The day you hold your newborn baby in your arms, the world will never be the same. In that moment, your mind is blown and your heart expands to ten times its original size. Bringing a new life into the world can be both joyous and terrifying, but as a new parent you’ll do everything in your power to protect them from potential danger and ensure your child is provided with the healthiest possible diet.
While the number of children being raised on a plant-based diet is increasing, there are still concerns, in parents and pediatricians, that a diet devoid of dairy products is nutritionally insufficient. And while new parents are inundated with information telling them that a diet rich in dairy is essential to raise a healthy child, this couldn’t be further from the truth, even though it can be difficult separating fact from fiction during this vulnerable time.
Will a dairy-free diet harm my baby?
Optimal growth and development in a child requires sufficient macro nutrients (protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). While it’s important to make sure your child is getting the right amount of each, the primary concern among parents in excluding dairy from their child’s diet is that they won’t get enough of certain nutrients, such as calcium or vitamin D. This is a common misconception. Even dairy milk is fortified, so there’s no reason to think it’s a better source of vitamin D than fortified plant milks or cereals. And once your baby moves to solid foods, plant sources of calcium are more bioavailable than the calcium present in dairy products. Nutritional requirements can certainly be met through plant-based eating and supplementation.
There are also numerous benefits to feeding your child a dairy-free diet. When a baby obtains the nutrients they need through fortified plant formulas rather than dairy-based formulas, and later solid plant foods, this sets the stage for a healthier childhood.
On the other hand, dairy products, which contain saturated fats and hormones, can serve as a launching pad for diseases like type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity (1)(2). Cow’s milk is also the most severe food allergen in infants and children, surpassing peanuts. And it’s important to note that human beings aren’t biologically designed to consume mammalian milk from another species. Two thirds of the world’s population is lactose intolerant for a reason—dairy consumption is a divergence from what our species is actually meant to consume. Cow’s milk is intended for baby cows.
Dairy-free for the future
Dairy-free kids have healthier dietary habits as they age and are documented to have lower rates of heart disease and cancer in adulthood. A plant-based diet is favorable for human beings at any stage in life. Another benefit of habitually eating more fruits and vegetables is that they contain health-promoting phytonutrients that can’t be obtained by consuming animal products (3).
Additionally, raising your children plant-based has long-term positive impacts on the environment, on the planet they will inherit. Animal agriculture and the production of cow’s milk is devastating to Mother Earth. It poisons and pollutes water, produces waste and releases greenhouse gasses that contribute to rapid climate change.
Keeping your child dairy free has never been more convenient, and more evidence continues to reveal the lasting benefits of this choice. Once your child is weaned off of breastfeeding, talk to your pediatrician to find out if going plant based is right for your child and to ensure they’re receiving a well-rounded diet and the proper supplements if necessary.
If you have any concerns, we highly recommend working with a registered dietitian to ensure your child is meeting all of their unique needs to thrive. If you need help finding a qualified expert, email us at [email protected] and we will be happy to help connect you.
Check out the link below for more tips, from experienced moms and medical experts, on how to raise your child dairy-free.