How Dairy-Free Mothers Can Meet the Nutritional Needs of Newborns

Newborn babies have vital and specific nutritional needs when in a stage of such rapid development, so dairy-free moms should do their research before breast or bottle-feeding their little ones. The most natural source of the vital nutrients and other substances a baby needs is mother’s milk or a close replica (such as formula). Milk in some form is a baby’s food for the first four to six months of life. Babies need no other source of calories during this time.

In fact, babies who are given solid foods too soon are at greater risk of becoming overweight or developing food allergies. Those solid foods also may displace vital nutrients needed from breast milk or baby formula. Resist the temptation to give solids to babies younger than 4 to 6 months of age.

Breastfeeding: Mother’s milk is best

Without a doubt, the very best food for babies through the first six months of life (and longer, if possible) is breast milk. Breast milk holds advantages over other options for several reasons. The composition of breast milk is optimal. Because milk is species-specific, human milk naturally contains the precise mix of nutrients — proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals — needed for a human baby’s growth and development. Even well-designed substitutes — commercial baby formulas — aren’t likely to be as good as breast milk.

Substances present in human breast milk strengthen a baby’s immune system and give him added protection against certain illnesses. Breastfed babies also are less likely to develop allergies later in life and have less of a chance of being overweight or obese.

Baby formula as a mother's milk substitute

Breastfeeding sometimes can be difficult or impossible for a woman. The reasons are varied and may include health issues related to the baby or the mom. Luckily, when you can’t breastfeed, you do have an alternative: synthetic infant formula.

Most infant formulas are based on cow’s milk, which is altered to be more easily digested and to more closely resemble human breast milk. Infant formulas that are made with cow’s milk are identified as “milk-based” on the front label of the products. If you want your baby to avoid cow’s milk, don’t use these products. In this case, other infant formulas that contain no animal products are available. Most of these are soy-based products.

If your baby is bottle fed, don’t put anything in the bottle except breast milk, formula, or water for the first six months. Sugar-water drinks, soft drinks, and iced tea are inappropriate for babies and small children. Fruit juices and diluted baby cereals shouldn’t be introduced until after the six-month point.

When these products are introduced, they should be given in a cup or by spoon, not in a bottle, to discourage the formation of cavities in baby teeth. Nothing is more nutritious or beneficial to your baby for the first six months than breast milk or commercial infant formula. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out whether your baby needs water to supplement the milk or formula she’s getting.

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