I am a huge advocate of a diet rich in plants.
Plants include wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, pulses, legumes, seeds and nuts.
I also understand the desire to decrease dairy for ethical reasons.
However there has been an increase in children weaned on plant based milk alternatives such as almond, soya, oat or rice milk.
HOWEVER, growing babies and children have very different needs to adults, therefore they do require different nutrition.
Research shows that increasing numbers of babies are diagnosed with malnutrition which is indicated by fatigue or growth deficiency.
A recent small scale study (Lernale 2018) showed that 60% of babies fed plant based milk alternatives had anaemia and 40% had suboptimal electrolyte levels in addition to being underweight.
Interestedly parents reported that the main influences to give their babies plant based milk instead of dairy milk was the media and “alternative medical professionals”.
The only milk that meets a baby’s nutritional needs (aside from breast milk) is whole dairy milk or goats milk fortified with vitamin D, all alternatives simply don’t contain enough protein or fat.
There are however situations where cows nor goat milk can be consumed, for example lactose intolerance. Lactose free milk is now available to use for the complimentary feeding period and dairy free formula feeds can be used if required. However if a parent prefers a plant based drink then dairy alternatives should be carefully considered.
Guidelines differ worldwide but in the UK we recommended a full fat fortified unsweetened soy milk can be used as part of a mixed diet after 12 months, paying attention that protein and fat intake is adequate in meals.
Rice milk is not advised due to its potential levels of arsenic.
Ultimately if breast feeding ceases, dairy milk is the most beneficial alternative; however if this is not tolerated, soy milk or if absolutely necessary complimenting this with a dairy free formula can be considered after 12 Months.