This is a common question from new parents. Should you give your child dairy cow milk or soy milk? My answer is neither, since both can cause health problems. Toddlers and children do not need any type of milk after they are weaned from breast milk.
“Drink milk; it’s nature’s most perfect food”. The dairy industry has been promoting this message for decades. Is milk really a perfect food for toddlers and children? If you are talking about human breastmilk, then the answer is yes. When it comes to dairy milk – it’s perfect for calves, but not for humans.
Cow milk contains protein and calcium, but much of the nutritional value is depleted during processing. The biggest problem with milk is that it is pasteurized. Pasteurization kills vitamins, enzymes, and good bacteria, it makes milk indigestible, and it interferes with calcium absorption. Children also need the fat in milk to absorb the calcium, so homogenized or low-fat milk is not a good idea. Another issue is that today’s dairy cows do not eat the right foods to make healthy milk. In addition, pesticides, antibiotics, and bovine growth hormone are abundant in milk, unless it’s organic.
Cow milk is associated with all kinds of health problems, including allergies, anemia, diabetes, and cancer. So milk is not the best place to get protein or calcium, with one exception. Raw cow milk from pastured cows that eat green grass can be a good choice since it has not been affected by pasteurization or heavy processing, and pastured cows make healthy milk. Unfortunately, raw milk is very difficult to come by in most areas.
Many children are allergic to milk and dairy products. Some symptoms to look for include chronic nasal and sinus congestion, asthma, and frequent ear infections. Stomach aches and gas can also be caused by milk. If your child has any of these problems, try stopping all dairy products for a month. Then if symptoms improve, try reintroducing milk and see what happens.
What about soy milk? We’ve been taught (by the soy industry of course) that soy is a health food. It is not, and soy can be quite harmful if fed in large amounts to young children. This article outlines some of the detrimental effects of feeding soy to children:
Read Soy Alert
A common question I hear from parents is what type of milk is the best alternative to dairy milk? This question shows how deeply ingrained the message is that milk is vitally important to our health. It’s not milk that’s important; it’s protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals and all these nutrients can be found in other foods. Children don’t need any type of milk after they’ve weaned from breastmilk. They do need healthy whole foods. They need protein foods such as naturally-raised meats and eggs and they need healthy fats.
The best non-dairy sources of calcium are dark green vegetables and sesame seeds (tahini). Or if your child is not eating enough of these foods, then a chewable or liquid form of calcium citrate is a good idea. A good supplement is Childlife Calcium & Magnesium Liquid. I also like Flora Floradix Kinder Love Children’s Multivitamin because it is a whole food supplement.
At Healthy Child we have tons of articles on food and nutrition for children. You can access this information on the Healthy Child blog.
I don’t recommend soy or rice milk or any type of milk for kids after weaning (unless it’s raw milk). After weaning, the best drink is pure, filtered water.
42 thoughts on “Cow Milk or Soy Milk?”
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YEAH! I’m so glad to hear you discuss raw milk as a healthier alternative! Way to go HC! We drink raw milk from pastured grass fed cows in our house!
Shannon, happy to hear you are able to get raw milk from pastured cows. Really wonderful. Thanks for your comment.
We give our kids Hemp milk and Almond milk along with the vitamins. The hemp has high amounts of Omegas. Any good info on those drinks for kids or anything I don’t know that I should be aware of with those milks?
Hemp is a really great food and highly nutritional. The only thing about the hemp milk is that once it becomes milk in a box it may lose some of its nutritional value. Plus some companies add sugar so you really need to look at the sugar content. Same with almond milk. So it’s better to just eat the hemp seeds or the almonds, rather than having it in milk. Another reason why I didn’t mention these two milks (which are fine occasionally) is that people tend to think that milk is something that kids should be drinking 3 times a day and some moms fill their kids’ bottles or sippy cups with milk so they’re constantly drinking it. I think almond and hemp milks are great for occasional use and when you need milk for something those are the best ones to use. It’s just not a good idea to be drinking large amounts of any one food. A diet with a variety of whole foods is better.
Thank you for this article. My 18 month old does not have a choice with dairy as she is highly allergic to all dairy (anaphylactic). She is unable to digest red meat proteins (projectile vomits with any red meat). On top of all that, she is allergic to eggs, avocados, and bananas ( as well as tree nuts…discovered via blood tests when her flare ups were not getting better after I stopped dairy consumption and drank nut milks while breastfeeding). With all this, good fat consumption is a huge worry of mine. I do give her olive oil on most foods and she drinks some coconut milk. However she is somewhat reactive to it. Do you have any other suggestions? I just had to wean from BF as I’m expecting baby #2 and truly felt my limited diet was not healthy for the fetus. I have stayed away from soy but I feel she’s getting a heavy grain filled diet. Thanks for any suggestions!!!
Celeste, have you tried giving her cod liver oil? That’s a good source of EFAs.
Hi Celeste, here’s my 10 cents worth hope it helps. Ive been studying Nutritional Medicine for 10 years with a special interest in kids, bubs and mums and it braks my heart to hear your struggle so here tis…
For your bub
*Vit d drops-controls immune reactions [high in cod liver oil which also has high vit a-brilliant for all kids and allergic conditions]
*Black cummin oil
*Evening primrose oil
*Hemp seed oil
Coconut oil is brilliant-but must be organic.
Consider a hair analysis to find out what is behind all of this immune disregulation. You will see heavy metals and find out what nutrients she’s deficient in [you can remove the metals too-so dont worry, find someone good to work with you here]
VIt d drops
Fish oil [must be screened for heavy metals and contain vit E or rosemary to “stabilise” it
zinc-1 before bed.
These all help to limit the allergic potential in your next bub.
I would also encourage you to breastfeed right through, a second dose of colostrum would be grat for no 1 bub. And we really are the only culture that does this-as long as your diet is nutritionally dense you should be fine.
Thank you so much for the suggestions! As we recently took our daughter to see a holistic pediatrician, he recommended vit D and cod liver supplements. Getting a hair analysis is something we never thought of so we will highly consider it. Do you have recommendations on where to purchase zinc supps for myself? I actually have considered breastfeeding both babies when #2 comes. Thank you again for all your help and time!
There should be as much importance placed on Vitamin B12 as there is Folic acid during pregnancy and breast feeding. All mothers should be checked for B12 deficiency prior to taking Folic acid because it can mask a B12 deficiency. I had undiagnosed B12 deficiency while breastfeeding my son for 15 months. This can cause severe brain damage, autism like behavior and even death.
Wow, Jennifer thank you for sharing this oh so important informartion. I started taking B-12 after I giving birth to my son and I was taking Folic acid the whole pregnancy but never thought to have ask my ob-gyn if I was deficient. However after giving birth I found out I was severely iron deficient-anemic and was quite angry with ob-gyn for telling me where my levels were during pregnancy. When I questioned her, she informed me that I was slightly low in iron during pregnancy but it was not severe so she didn’t say anything. Wow! I will have to be more diligient in asking more questions with my next pregnancy. I learned that I can’t trust my ob-gyn to inform me on all points.
Great article! I completely agree and recommend the same to all my patients.
Thank you for posting this article! I have worked with many families, specifically focusing on children’s health, as a nutritionist and struggle to find great articles like this one explaining to parents in simple terms why dairy and soy are not the best choices for most children. It seems that although I live in a world where this article makes perfect sense, most doctors and nutritionists and parents that I meet have never even considered dairy or soy to be the cause or contributor to various health issues.
Once again, thanks for the article!!!
You are most welcome, Leah. Thanks so much for your comment! I know, it should really be the first thing a doctor asks, instead of automatically prescribing a drug. Find out what the child is eating and determine if it may be causing or contributing to the problem. But most doctors are not taught this in medical school.
I have never understood why people think it’s ‘normal’ to wean their children on to another mammal’s milk. What other animal does that?! We use almond milk for cooking and my kids drink WATER.
Some people cannot breast feed for medical reasons. As a mom we try our best to ensure that our child gets all the nutrients he needs. Because we are all different as humans, we have to try many things and go with our gut. It is always trial and error. Breathing our air these days and drinking water is questionable.
For those who like milk (some sort), instead of buying it one can make it. Blend filtered water with hemp seeds or organic almonds… and if you don’t worry about the sugars, add some organic maple syrup grade b or raw local honey or other natural sweetener. It is very easy, takes only two minutes to do.That’s right, 2 minutes!!! Just use a good quality blender (e.g. Vitamix). Additional hint: depending what you want to use it for, sifting through a nut milk bag (optional) will give you a silky consistency…
I’m reluctant to feed my kids almond milk due to the phytic acid (nutrient blockers) in raw nuts that haven’t been soaked/dehydrated. I’ve seen videos on how to make it yourself using soaked nuts but I haven’t yet. I think all things coconut…including coconut milk…are awesome and thus my alternative of choice but I’m hard pressed to find coconut milk without any thickeners or other fillers so I use sparingly.
So how my kid is supposed to get any calcium? ( and I do not believe in giving a baby supplementary vitamins at such a young age! The baby is a good eater, there is no reason not to get any vitamins in the food..)
If not milk, then what should supply any calcium? And how much?
Especially when the baby refuses to eat any yogurt !!!
Sheryl, Many foods have calcium so if your baby is eating well and gets a variety of foods, including dark green vegetables like kale and broccoli, there’s probably no need to supplement.
Great article! We have been dairy free and gluten free and mostly soy free in our family for 9 years…3 VERY healthy children with not a SINGLE ear infection, sinus infection, or any health issues. When you look at the healthiest countries in the world…they NEVER consume cow milk products…goat milk is the closest to human milk if you have to substitute. The casein protein in cow’s milk is designed to be digested 4 times, hence cow’s have 4 stomachs!
I have several sites if you want more info: http://www.developmentaldelay.net click on left side under nutrition/biomedical/food sensitivities
Wordpress blog: pediatrictherapist
Facebook pages: casien free in middle tennessee and Centers of Development.
That is our “NOT milk story” above!
My son, almost 2 year’s, is almost addicted to milk. He asks for it constantly. He does not eat frequently, despite the very healthy variety I offer him. I am concerned about his brain development. Do you have any suggestions?
Toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters. They are natural grazers and many prefer snacks to big meals so the snacks need to be very healthy. You could try packing some nutrition into healthy smoothies with coconut oil, flax oil, whey protein powder, and fruit. You may also consider giving him cod liver oil so he gets vitamin D and DHA. If you are able to get raw milk, you could switch to that. Or if not, you may consider weaning him off the cow milk.
Thank you for that article! I don’t know if this was asked already or not but how do you feel about the organic milk found in the grocery stores now? I’m not a big believer in milk either, but I have been buying that thinking it was much better. If it isn’t I will stop buying that as well. Thanks!
Organic milk is pasteurized. It’s the pasteurization that makes the milk unhealthy. Organic milk does eliminate the pesticides, hormones, etc. so it’s better in that sense. But there’s not much nutrition there, due to pasteurization. The only healthy cow milk is raw milk from grass-fed cows. This milk usually doesn’t need to be certified organic since the cows are eating what they are supposed to eat and the grass they are eating is not grown with pesticides and they are not given hormones. But the key is that they are eating grass and not soy or other “organic feed”. They are eating the natural diet that makes them and their milk healthy. Most organic milk comes from factory-farmed cows – they just give them organic corn and soy instead of the the regular corn and soy. Corn and soy is not a normal healthy diet for cows, and this is what makes their milk and meat unhealthy.
What do you think about things like almond milk or coconut milk once the child is older?
At what age would you say is safe to start raw mill? My son just turned one and I don’t want to start him on pasturized milk, but I’m not sure if his immune system is too young for raw milk?
Many people give raw milk formula to babies without any problems. Here is a link to the Real Milk website with links to discussions about safety of raw milk:
Awesome, thanks! I’m trying to get my hands on pasture fed raw milk, but if I can’t, I can easily get raw milk from my in-laws who are dairy farmers. Their cows are not pasture fed, but here in Ontario, dairy cows are not given hormones or antibiotics. Do you think it would be beneficial to give my son raw, non-pasture fed cows milk or am I better to not give any milk at all? Thanks for your help!
What about Oat milk?? unsweetened homemade, like we do at home. Is that ok for my children?
Homemade oat milk sounds wonderful. Do you have a recipe you’d like to share?
Thank you for this article. I am very picky about what and how much of certain things my children eat. This morning I was bullied by the preschool director because they are ‘required’ by law to offer my son milk at lunch and I do not want him to have it.
Oh Stephanie, that’s just crazy. The government needs to stay out of our parenting choices. Sorry you have to deal with a preschool director who translates offering into bullying.
Thank you for sharing this article! Very helpful! I’d still go for raw milk than soy! 🙂
I could only breastfeed for 8 week I have a very hungry little boy but what is better for a formula for him cows milk or soy milk?? Please help which is best for babies?? Thx 🙂
Soy formula is not good for babies. Soy formulas contain mineral-blocking phytic acid, growth inhibitors and estrogen compounds that can have adverse effects on the hormonal development of your baby.
The healthiest formula is one you make yourself. The Weston Price Foundation has recipes here: http://www.westonaprice.org/childrens-health/recipes-for-homemade-baby-formula
Thank you for a great article! As a holistic coach, I will be referring this article to my clients from now on. It’s just what I was looking for! I agree with the facts stated. Unfortunately, milk consumption is so much ingrained in our culture that it might be shocking for some not to include any milk in the diet. As long as a child is on a clean whole food based diet, he/she will get all the nutrients needed.
Just a note on the oat milk..I make it the same way as almond milk except I use the water that I soak it in to blend. (with the almonds I drain the soaking water and blend with fresh water) Also, you don’t really need to starin oat milk (very little meal to starin off) I add about a tablespoon of honey to sweeten as well
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So my 18 month old girl is allergic to…. dairy, nuts, eggs, coconut, tree nuts, legumes and strawberries……. The only thing she tolerates is soya milk, what should I give her ?
She doesn’t need any type of milk, but if you’re concerned about calcium, she can get that from leafy greens or sesame seeds (tahini). Or give her a calcium supplement as mentioned in the above article. – jane
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