The Department of Health recommends that full fat cows’ milk should not be given to babies as a main drink until they are 12 months of age because of its low iron and high sodium and protein content. However, it can be used in food recipes. Infant formula milk or breast milk are appropriate alternatives for babies before 12 months of age.
From six months of age, babies can continue to have breast milk and/or infant formula milk. Follow-on milks are also available and can be given to complement a healthy weaning diet, although follow-on formula milk is not regarded as a breast milk substitute.
At this age, follow-on milks can be used as the main drink and when preparing foods containing milk (e.g. cereal or sauces). They contain a higher level of some key nutrients than infant formula milks, such as iron and vitamin D, to help meet the needs of infants at this age on a weaning diet.
Follow-on milks are manufactured by modifying cows’ milk:
As soon as a baby can hold things, suggest parents try giving them a cup to play with so they get used to handling one
As with infant formula milk, follow-on milk should be made up as it is required, rather than in batches. This is because of possible bacterial growth in the milk during storage. It is therefore important that parents follow the instructions on how to make up a feed (see How to prepare a bottle feed). You should also remind parents of how important it is to use boiled water that has only been allowed to cool for 30 minutes. This will ensure that it is at the required minimum temperature of 70°C.
Follow-on milks are intended to complement a weaning diet and should not be used as the only source of nutrition. However, as milk is still an important source of nutrition at this stage, they can act as a nutritional ‘safety net’ – reassuring parents if babies seem fussy or go through a difficult eating stage. The use of follow-on milks is optional. Follow-on milks should never be used for babies under six months old as they are not nutritionally suitable.
Since milk provides ideal conditions for the growth of bacteria and is still a potential source of infection for babies in this age group, bottles and teats should continue to be sterilised until the baby’s first birthday.
A cup doesn’t need to be sterilised, but it should be carefully washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed in clean, running water. Alternatively, it can be washed in a dishwasher.
From six months of age, parents should encourage their baby to drink from an open cup or a freeflow cup without a valve as this will help the baby learn to sip rather than suck, which is better for the teeth. Comfort sucking on sweetened drinks is the biggest cause of tooth decay in young children. When using a bottle or trainer cup, nothing other than breast milk, infant formula, or water should be put into it.
Advise parents that they may need to try a few different cups before finding one that suits their baby. By 12 months of age, babies should have stopped using bottles with teats.
Parents can try the following: