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Wean from Formula to Soy Milk or Whole Milk?

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Shari Nethersole, M.D.

Q: My daughter is 13 months old and has eczema, which is under control. She is currently drinking soy formula mixed with whole milk, while I try to wean her off formula. Do you think I should wean her to soy milk or is whole milk okay? I have heard that whole milk and dairy products in general are hard for infants/toddlers to digest. She was definitely allergic to Similac formula, but does not seem to have any reaction to whole milk.

A: In this country, most infants who drink formula take one of the milk-based formulas such as Enfamil or Similac. Some infants do have an allergy to milk and then are put on soy formula or one of the elemental formulas. The vast majority of infants who have a milk allergy completely outgrow it by age 12 or 15 months, however. They can go directly to whole milk without any difficulty once they reach their first birthday. Although, children who have a prolonged milk allergy may tolerate soy milk better, a true milk allergy after the age of 18 months is exceedingly rare.

Milk and milk products are not difficult to digest for most children. In fact, milk is an important source of calcium, vitamin D, protein, and fat. Some children (and more frequently, adults), can have an intolerance to lactose, which is the main carbohydrate (sugar) that is in milk. This is quite different from a protein allergy, though. With lactose intolerance, one may have bloating, excessive gas, loose stools, and mild abdominal pain.

Since it seems as though your child is handling the milk without any difficulty, it would be reasonable to just keep her on whole milk as you stop the formula. Soy milk is much more expensive than whole milk, and unless you read the labels, and make sure that you are getting fortified or enriched soy milk (enriched with vitamins and calcium), your child may not get all of the nutrients her body needs from the soy milk.

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Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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