Only when you become a parent do you realize what a hot topic milk is. From babies having tummy troubles with regular formula to the recent baby formula shortage, feeding your baby can sometimes be a challenge. You may have heard about goat milk as a possible alternative and are wondering if it’s safe.
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The short answer is goat milk isn’t an option for infants under 1 year of age. Some formulas made from goat milk may be a viable alternative, but they’re hard to come by in the United States.
Pediatrician Matthew Badgett, MD, helps fully explain the differences between goat milk and goat milk formula, as well as other questions about how to choose a safe formula for your baby.
Is goat milk safe for babies?
We won’t beat around the bush; goat milk is baahh-d news for babies.
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that pure goat milk is unsafe — and in some cases, life-threatening — for infants under 1 year of age. This means: no goat milk for babies within their first 12 months of life. The same rule is generally applied to pure cow’s milk as well. This is because your brand-new baby has a delicate digestive system, one that can’t handle the proteins found in animal-derived milk.
“Traditional baby formulas are specifically designed to have the right balance of macronutrients and different fats, carbs and proteins,” explains Dr. Badgett. “And the biggest concern is getting the right mix of salts, specifically with sodium and water.”
Goat milk consumption in babies can lead to health issues, including:
- Hyponatremia. Babies can develop hyponatremia from consuming goat milk. This condition occurs when there isn’t enough sodium in their blood.
- Megaloblastic anemia. As goat milk doesn’t have all the added proteins your baby needs, it can also lead to a folate (vitamin B9) deficiency.
- Allergic reactions. Just like with cow’s milk, babies can also have severe allergies to goat milk. This can vary for each child, so make sure to talk to your pediatrician or healthcare provider about your child’s specific needs.
- Infections and sepsis. During the first years of life, your baby is at much higher risk for infections and sepsis — especially if the milk they’re consuming isn’t being stored or sterilized properly. “For all those reasons, goat milk is not recommended for any infant under one year of age,” says Dr. Badgett.
Rest assured, goat milk can still be a good option later in life. After your little one turns 1, you’re in the clear to introduce it into their diet if you’d like. Just make sure the milk is pasteurized and that your child is getting a good mix of folate in their diet (as goat milk is low on this essential vitamin).
“As kids get older, goat’s milk is fine, especially when it’s part of a complete and balanced diet,” says Dr. Badgett.
Is goat milk formula a good alternative?
Formula made from goat milk is a whole different discussion. While it’s not as available in the United States, goat milk formula can be a safe alternative to regular formula. As long as you’re getting it from a dependable source, it can work as a replacement for formula made from cow’s milk.
When it comes to goat milk formula for your infant, here are some things to consider:
Pros and cons of using goat milk formula
Pro: It may be an alternative to cow’s milk formula
According to Dr. Badgett, many parents have been toying with the idea of goat-milk-based formula for their babies who have cow’s milk sensitivities. If your child has an allergy to cow’s milk, they may experience symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting and, in some extreme cases, anaphylaxis.
That’s where goat milk formula comes in. Some studies show that it may have less lactose and is easier on your child’s tummy.
Con: It’s not regulated in the United States
Currently, goat milk baby formula is approved in countries like Australia, but it isn’t regulated in the United States. This doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands on it, but importing formulas from overseas comes with a new set of risks.
“You have to make sure that you’re not getting an expired product, or that you’re actually getting the product that you’re supposed to be getting,” cautions Dr. Badgett.
However, if you’re traveling abroad and in a pinch because you don’t have access to your usual formula, goat milk formula is a safe option to try.
What about homemade formulas?
As goat milk formula isn’t as readily available in the U.S., you may be googling around for a recipe to make a batch of your own at home. Dr. Badgett warns against making any homemade formula — whether from goat’s milk or cow’s milk.
“If I mess up my chocolate chip cookie recipe and they were too gooey or they were too dry, I’ll still eat them and I’ll be fine. But the same isn’t true for a baby,” Dr. Badgett explains. “There are consequences when you mess up the production of infant formula. It’s really important for infants that their formula is made in a controlled and sterile environment because their ability to tolerate certain things is different.”
The bottom line? It’s never OK to make infant formula at home. Stick to purchasing and preparing commercial formulas.
Other formula alternatives
Not sure if goat-milk-based formula is the one for you? The good news is there’s a big range of other formula options you can try. While breast milk is recommended, traditional formula is a healthy alternative because it’s formulated to be as similar to breast milk as possible. However, if for any reason your baby isn’t doing well with traditional formula and you aren’t breastfeeding, there are other formula varieties available.
“Some babies do struggle with cow’s milk intolerance and other babies just don’t do great on traditional formula. If that’s the issue, there’s a lot of other formula options that we can consider,” says Dr. Badgett.
If your baby can’t handle typical formula, you can try other options like soy-based or hypoallergenic formulas.
Compared to other countries, goat milk formula isn’t as popular in the United States. But it can be an option if it’s available in your area. The important thing to remember is that goat milk is not the same as goat milk formula — your baby should not be given pure goat milk before they turn 1. Be sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician about any allergy needs your baby has and questions about picking the formula that’s right for them.